According to a new paper, there’s a solid chance that a massive super flare storm could impact Earth within 100 years. And the consequences of this magnitude of a solar storm could include extinction.
In The Astrophysical Journal, a new paper was published detailing the outcome of a super flare. Avi Loeb and Manasvi Lingham, two renowned astrophysicists at Harvard University, have been concerned with the prospect of a so-called “superflare” for some time now. Unlike most, they’re far more worried about superflares than asteroid impacts or volcanic super-eruptions. They also warn that “powerful superflares can serve as plausible drivers of extinction events.”
The two scientists also point out that “the risk posed by superflares has not been sufficiently appreciated.” Not only would a superflare annihilate electrical circuits in a world covered in them, but it would also generate $10 trillion worth of damage.
Back in 1859, a powerful storm on the Sun launched colossal solar flares towards Earth, and the subsequent electrical surge triggered the shutdown of telegraph systems all over the planet. Should a storm of that magnitude occur again, global power grids will go down and the consequences would be far greater. Just one superflare generates enough energy to satiate the electricity demands of the entire planet for 14,700 years.
Using the geological record, along with data from other Sun-like stars, the pair worked out the frequency of various types of superflares impacting the Earth. They found that extreme, atmosphere-eroding, extinction-level superflares occur on the Sun once every 20 million years. Additionally, they found that the chances of one being able to cause major ecological and technological damage occurring within the next century is around one-in-1,000. A weaker superflare that just causes damage to electrical systems is even more likely. Those chances are about one-in-eight.
By comparison, the chance of witnessing a supervolcanic blast in your lifetime is around 90,000 times less likely than that of experiencing a type of superflare. But the good news is that these two researchers have also penned a study detailing how an Earth-sized magnetic shield could be used to defend ourselves from such an event. Although prohibitively expensive, many think that it’s something that humanity should consider if the chances of a superflare event are this high. Considering most humans lack basic survival skills, a superflare storm could be a catastrophe and an extinction level event.
If a superflare is extremely energetic, the planet’s magnetic field will experience a huge increase in its electric current. This can trigger a geomagnetic storm, which if powerful enough, has the potential to knock out satellites and electrical grids, and even partly strip away the ozone layer. There was actually a near-miss in 2012 when an explosion on the Sun produced not only plenty of flare-based electromagnetic radiation but a coronal mass ejection (CME) – a fountain of highly-magnetized solar plasma particles.