We've just observed the most powerful solar flare ever recorded

Dubbed a "superflare," scientists have just published their findings on the biggest solar flare yet observed. Thankfully it is 400 light-years away.
Christopher McFadden
The flare is the biggest yet seen.


Scientists have observed one of the most powerful solar flares ever observed. Observed in the Orion system, the "superflare" was so big it doubtless would have devastated anything in its path, like exoplanets. According to a paper released on the flare in the Astrophysical Journal, the flare is estimated to have been around ten times more powerful, or more, than anything ever seen from our Sun.

The astronomers focused their latest study on the stellar system known as V1355 Orionis, which is 400 light-years away from our planet and has two stars orbiting each other. These stars are part of a group linked to other superflares and are known to have many sunspots and black, planet-sized patches arising from extreme electromagnetic activity.

The researchers examined the remote star system at several light wavelengths, using data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the Seimei Telescope in Japan, to obtain the most detailed image of the superflare's development.

They discovered that one of the most violent stellar eruptions ever observed, a high-velocity prominence that erupted from one of the stars at around 2.2 million mph (3.5 million km/h), was the cause of the flare's beginning. The authors claimed that this explosion, which may have been one of the greatest coronal mass ejections (CMEs) ever seen, launched trillions of tonnes of electrically charged stuff into space at a significantly greater speed than the star's escape velocity.

Solar flares are sudden and intense bursts of energy and radiation that appear on the surface of a star, like the Sun. They are believed to be formed from the complex interaction of the star's magnetic field with its plasma, an electrically conductive gas consisting of charged particles such as electrons, protons, and ions. However, it is essential to note that scientists are not entirely sure how or why they form.

Solar flares can significantly impact space weather and cause geomagnetic storms, affecting Earth's satellite operations, telecommunications, and power grids. In the case of the newly observed flare, the authors speculated that these superflares might be accompanied by massive eruptions of charged particles that might obliterate life on any planet in their line of fire. Thankfully, however, our little world is too far away to be impacted by this gigantic "superflare."

You can view the study for yourself in the journal Astrophysical Journal.

Study abstract:

"Stellar coronal mass ejections (CMEs) have recently received much attention for their impacts on exoplanets and stellar evolution. Detecting prominence eruptions, the initial phase of CMEs, as the blueshifted excess component of Balmer lines is a technique to capture stellar CMEs. However, most prominence eruptions identified thus far have been slow and less than the surface escape velocity. Therefore, whether these eruptions were developing into CMEs remained unknown. In this study, we conducted simultaneous optical photometric observations with Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and optical spectroscopic observations with the 3.8 m Seimei Telescope for the RS CVn-type star V1355 Orionis that frequently produces large-scale superflares. We detected a superflare releasing 7.0 × 1035 erg. In the early stage of this flare, a blueshifted excess component of Hα extending its velocity up to 760–1690 km s−1 was observed and thought to originate from prominence eruptions. The velocity greatly exceeds the escape velocity (i.e., ∼350 km s−1), which provides important evidence that stellar prominence eruptions can develop into CMEs. Furthermore, we found that the prominence is very massive (9.5 × 1018 g < M < 1.4 × 1021 g). These data will clarify whether such events follow existing theories and scaling laws on solar flares and CMEs even when the energy scale far exceeds solar cases."

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