The sun could hurl out a powerful "superflare" that would disrupt civilisation on Earth, scientists have warned.

Every so often, stars throw out huge bursts of energy that can be seen right across galaxies, from hundreds of light years away.

Scientists had believed Earth might be safe, because such events largely happen on younger and more active stars. But new discoveries suggest that more mature stars like our own sun could also throw out the destructive blasts.

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If such a flare were to hit, it could cause damage to electronics across the globe. That in turn would bring widespread blackouts and the destruction of communications satellites that orbit above our heads.

Such an event is more rare on older and more quiet stars like ours, they say. But they are more confident than ever that they can happen, and that they should be expected once in every few thousand years.

The researchers behind the discovery called on authorities to respond to the danger and make sure that Earth is safe.

 

"Our study shows that superflares are rare events," said Yuta Notsu, lead author of a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society. "But there is some possibility that we could experience such an event in the next 100 years or so."

The phenomenon was first psotted by the Kepler Space Telescope. It spends its time looking out at stars to try and spot Earth-sized planets orbiting around them – but it noticed that sometimes the stars themselves seemed to get very suddenly bright.

Those quick and vast blasts of energy have been named superflares, and now look to threaten life on Earth.

They become less common as a star ages, they found in a new study that looked at data from the European Space Agency's Gaia spacecraft and from the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. Researchers watched for superflares on 43 stars like our own, and examined data that showed how old they might be and how given to throwing out the flares they are.

"Young stars have superflares once every week or so," Notsu said. "For the sun, it's once every few thousand years on average."

Scientists can't say for sure when or how such a superflare would arrive. But it will eventually come, they say – and scientists should start to prepare now, if they want to depend on the vast array of electronics and advanced technology that humanity relies on now.

"If a superflare occurred 1,000 years ago, it was probably no big problem. People may have seen a large aurora," Notsu said. "Now, it's a much bigger problem because of our electronics."

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