It's the coolest and smallest star that scientists have observed emitting a rare white-light superflare - a sudden eruption of magnetic energy that unleashes huge quantities of radiation, according to a statement from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom. New research shows that such eruptions can occur on stars as old and as inactive as our sun. That's because quickly spinning stars tend to have strong magnetic fields that easily get tangled up, which is thought to kick off flares.
Among the potential consequences, such an event could lead to blackouts all around the world, or cause satellites in orbit to malfunction-disabling communications technologies, global positioning systems and more.
"Our study shows that superflares are rare events", Notsu said in a statement. "But there is some possibility that we could experience such an event in the next 100 years or so".
The data used in the study was collected with the help of the Kepler space telescope which surveyed distant planets over eleven years.
They also utilized the European Space Agency's Gaia spacecraft and the Apache Point Observatory in Mexico, observing 43 superflares that came from stars similar in age and size to our own sun. Flares are known to occur often on our Sun, and can last anywhere from minutes to hours at a time. "The fact that we've observed this incredibly low mass star, where the chromosphere should be nearly at its weakest, but we have a white-light flare occurring shows that strong magnetic activity can still persist down to this level".
To find out, Notsu and an global team of researchers turned to data from the European Space Agency's Gaia spacecraft and from the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. However, official statistics confirm that most of the flares are emitted stars, with the average trend of one flare about per week. But he said that it's a matter of when, not if.
Dr Notsu hopes that the warning might give humanity time to prepare by developing shielding to protect electronics on the ground and in orbit from these bursts of stellar radiation.
Dr Notsu said: "If a superflare occurred 1,000 years ago, it was probably no big problem".
Auroras associated with this event could be seen as far south as Cuba and Hawaii, telegraph system worldwide went haywire, and ice core records from Greenland indicate that the Earth's protective ozone layer was damaged by the energetic particles from the solar storm.
"Now, its a much bigger problem because of our electronics".
Co-authors on the recent study include researchers from Kyoto University, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, University of Hyogo, University of Washington and Leiden University.