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Superflares Found On Sun-Like Stars

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the get-ready-for-the-big-one dept.

Space 50

astroengine writes "Scientists have found superflares more than 1 million times more powerful than flares generated by the sun occurring on sun-like stars being studied by NASA's Kepler space telescope. The finding, culled from 120 days of observations of 83,000 stars, is the first to detail how often and how energetic flares on other stars can be. The discovery, however, raises a question about how the massive outbursts, believed to be caused by complex magnetic interactions, can physically occur."

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50 comments

So in other words... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40023393)

we can reasonably expect to be baked to a crisp at any given moment.

Re:So in other words... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40023561)

Yeah. You hit the wrong sun, you're a Post Toastie.

Re:So in other words... (5, Funny)

flyneye (84093) | about 2 years ago | (#40023585)

Not a problem just send in your $35 to Bob and be spared this and countless other ordeals enumerated on Slashdot daily!
http://www.subgenius.com/scatalog/membership.htm [subgenius.com]
Eternal salvation or double your money back! And that's only the beginning of what can be done with contracted consciouslessness. Websurf the luck plane!
See the overmen and pink fools as they are without x-ray specs. Own your own reality!
Don't be surprised to find that solar flares are actually beneficial and life giving, not threatening, unless... of course... you didn't send in your $35.
Then you will be fried like snot in a McDondalds deep fryer with the other pink boys.
Just moments of your time and a small token to start living like a God!
Tough decision, pay Bob or fry......

Re:So in other words... (3, Interesting)

rgbatduke (1231380) | about 2 years ago | (#40023997)

Did I mention that my name is Bob, my first Linuxoid operating system was Slackware, and I'm very definitely an ordained subgenius? Also, I used to smoke a pipe.

So send your money to me.

rgb

(More seriously I'm reading The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. What a "Black Swan" an Earth-scouring solar flare would be! And one in 2012, too. Those pesky Mayans.

One is also seriously reminded of a Larry Niven short story, but I can't remember the name, am not at home near my bookshelves, and am way too lazy to look it up. But it all starts with the full moon rising and becoming very, very bright, signalling the sequential extinction of land/surface life as the planet rotates. How would you spend your last hours?

Re:So in other words... (2)

Sabriel (134364) | about 2 years ago | (#40024315)

Inconstant Moon by Larry Niven. Also the name of the volume of short stories in which this story can be found. The protagonist initially assumes the sun has gone nova. I think I lost my copy to someone who borrowed it and didn't return it, which is a shame, because they're all excellent stories (IMNSHO).

If you want massive spoilers, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inconstant_Moon [wikipedia.org] gives a brief synopsis of each of the stories in the collection.

Re:So in other words... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40034535)

I'm just finishing up The Black Swan. I have the 2nd edition with the essay at the end called "On Robustness and Fragility". Great addon to an already mind-blowing book. Perhaps the most interesting book I've ever read.

$35 bucks!? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40024143)

I remember when it was only $3. Of course, that was back before Bob's first prophecy of X day, so no wonder it's gone up now he's got a proven track record of failure behind him.

(heh, who do you think it was put the bit of paper in his hands the wrong way up in the first place? I'll give you a clue: if he'd held it the other way up, it would have read "kallisti"!)

Re:$35 bucks!? (1)

flyneye (84093) | about 2 years ago | (#40026255)

Not failure, the napkin was upside down and the year was read wrong. 6991 July 5 is the X day prophesy.
But we all had a good time back in 96 and the sex was great. Failure? who failed?

Re:So in other words... (1)

Chrisq (894406) | about 2 years ago | (#40025577)

we can reasonably expect to be baked to a crisp at any given moment.

If you take it in the terms of as personal survival then its probably not significant - chances of being killed on the road, struck by lightning, or murdered are probably much higher. If you value humanity living for as long as possible or eventually reaching the stars this is probably a bumber.

Re:So in other words... (2)

Coisiche (2000870) | about 2 years ago | (#40026173)

Very long odds since they're looking at a galaxy of billions of stars to see these.

However, it is just another candidate explanation for the Fermi Paradox. On a cosmic scale the universe is inimicable to life. Sure, you might persist long enough to evolve a bit of intelligence but sooner or later the rock that you live on is going to be physically pounded or bathed in lethal radiation.

Such an event is unlikely, but not impossible, in any of our lifetimes but it will eventually happen and the human race will still be here because nobody sees a quarterly return on investment for trying to go somewhere else.

RTFA, FFS, RABBLE (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40026585)

RTFA

Scientists previously theorized a close-flying Jupiter-sized planet would be needed to ground a super-flaring stars' magnetic fits. For the size flares our sun experiences, magnetic reconnection occurs within the sun itself, with one twisted magnetic field snapping and then linking up to another -- releasing energy in the process as a solar flare.

But the 365 superflares found by scientists crunching Kepler data need another explanation, said astrophysicist Bradley Schaefer, with Louisiana State University.

FFS

Eeeeee! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40023513)

Also raises the question of whether one might somehow randomly occur here...

Who would have thought?!?! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40023563)

Who would have thought that there's ionized hydrogen in space doing stuff that's magnetic in nature!

-- Typical Slashdot Know-It-All Geek

Re:Who would have thought?!?! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40024151)

Noooooo, can't you see it's ELECTRICAL in nature?! It's a massive cover-up by MHD supremacists! #TEACHTHECONTROVERSY

Pandora's Star (3)

Sperbels (1008585) | about 2 years ago | (#40023581)

MorningLightMountain is hard at work eradicating other species.

Re:Pandora's Star (1)

bryan1945 (301828) | about 2 years ago | (#40023757)

It's just like everything else in life- when you run into something weird, don't poke it with a stick!

Re:Pandora's Star (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40024127)

That doesn't happen until Judas Unchained.

too close for comfort (2)

slew (2918) | about 2 years ago | (#40023611)

Considering that the Kepler mission was hoping to catch quite a few so-called "hot-jupiters" in transit and apparently none have seemingly appeared around stars that have superflares, perhaps something about the superflares are keeping hot-jupiters from migrating close to their central stars or maybe these potential hot-jupiters migrated a bit too close to these stars and all we are seeing are the superflare "burps" after the star fried (or ate) those potential "hot-jupiters"...

Re:too close for comfort (0)

Fluffeh (1273756) | about 2 years ago | (#40023783)

Actually, as Kepler is using a transit methodology [nasa.gov] to find planets, there is nothing conclusive to say that these stars don't have large orbiting bodies. While I do accept that when looking at a large volume of stars, at least some of these should show transits by planets, but given the chances of a transit of a planet at roughly 1 AU is 0.47% [wikipedia.org] , then these 365 superflares should have statistically shown one single transit event. I wouldn't consider that to be conclusive proof by any stretch. I am going to call Occam's razor on this one.

Re:too close for comfort (2)

John Hasler (414242) | about 2 years ago | (#40024297)

The "hot jupiters" they are talkiing about would be much, much closer than 1 AU. Being closer increases the probability of transiting, which is where they get the 10% figure.

Re:too close for comfort (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40025853)

Statistics doesn't work that way. Stop using it that way.
That is like saying 1/3 that were in my year at school will get cancer, why hasn't anyone in my year got cancer yet?

11111111111 is as random as 789126128916. Just because it appears structured doesn't mean it is.
You could get 365 cases of the planets not showing a transit. There is about a billion factors that could come in to every single star determining when there'd possibly be a transit, if there even is any gas giants.

Re:too close for comfort (2)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 2 years ago | (#40029313)

Statistics doesn't work that way. Stop using it that way.
That is like saying 1/3 that were in my year at school will get cancer, why hasn't anyone in my year got cancer yet?

If there was a 1/3 chance for kids in your school to get cancer this , then it would be quite surprising if none of them did get it unless your year was very small. The chance of nobody getting cancer is (2/3)^N where N is the students in your class. For large N it is theoretically possible but extremely unlikely -- and thus perfectly legitimate to ask "Why didn't anyone get cancer?" Probably because the risk factor was miscalculated.

Similarly what the GP was saying is that based on the number of events and the probability of a transit, the Expected Value for transits (if flares have no effect on the existence of a planet and thus transit) was 1. Expecting 1/365 and finding 0/365 is not unusual or improbable, and not a reason to conclude that planets can't form around stars that produce superflares.

That is how statistics work.

Of course randomness is random, so it's always theoretically possible to get an unusual result through chance alone. For every particle physics discovery ever made there is a 1 * 10^-N chance for some N that it was just a fluke. The goal is for N to be large enough that it would be exceedingly unlikely we are wrong and thus make it safe to infer a positive result for now.

The correct rebuttal to the GP's point was as already given: Hot jupiters are expected to orbit at much less than 1 AU and thus the probability of a transit -- and thus expected value -- is much higher. Expecting 36 events and finding 0 is much less likely and while again could still be due to chance alone, is suggestive.

Shows how little we know about the universe (3, Interesting)

pz (113803) | about 2 years ago | (#40023781)

We deploy a new instrument and are puzzled and amazed at the results. This is incredibly wonderful, but shows how little we know about the universe. It seems to happen every time we deploy a new instrument. So much to know! So much to learn!

"Time's Eye" series by Clarke and Baxter (1)

dpilot (134227) | about 2 years ago | (#40023829)

Actually, the super solar flare was in the second book of the series, "Sunstorm". It's not giving much away to say that it wasn't an accident, either. Just finished the series last week.

Larry Niven (1)

John Bresnahan (638668) | about 2 years ago | (#40023949)

called this one back around 1970 in his classic story "Inconsistent Moon".

Re:Larry Niven (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about 2 years ago | (#40024333)

called this one back around 1970 in his classic story "Inconsistent Moon".

Memory ageing detected at location... refresh recommended. (hint: check again the title. The story seems to be nice enough to recheck more than the title).

Re:Larry Niven (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40028901)

Could have been worse, could have come up with "Incontinent Moon"... I don 't even want to imagine it!

1/75 stars per year have a superflare? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40024291)

1 out of 75 stars? Seems high. Those stars must have a different environment than our sun (or at least I hope so).

365 stars experience a superflare in a 120 day span. Times 3 to extrapolate to 1 year... = 1095 stars

83000/1095 = 75

Re:1/75 stars per year have a superflare? (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#40026759)

I think it argues not that the stars have a different environment but that the stars themselves are not so sunlike as all that.

It calls into question something tfa didn't answer: just how sunlike are these sunlike stars? Are they about the same mass and luminosity? About the same age?

Do they rotate at the same rate?

Only half (3, Insightful)

techno-vampire (666512) | about 2 years ago | (#40024715)

You realize, of course, that we're really only seeing half of the flares. That's because we can only see the ones that happen to be facing us. It's just like with pulsars: there's undoubtedly a lot of them out there that we'll never detect simply because we're not in the path of their output.

Re:Only half (3, Insightful)

AbrasiveCat (999190) | about 2 years ago | (#40025023)

You realize, of course, that we're really only seeing half of the flares. That's because we can only see the ones that happen to be facing us. It's just like with pulsars: there's undoubtedly a lot of them out there that we'll never detect simply because we're not in the path of their output.

Probably less than half, maybe a 1/4 to 1/3. You aren't going to see the ones on edge. It could also depend on how often we look at each star and how fast they rotate relative to us.

Spooky thought... (1)

VoidCrow (836595) | about 2 years ago | (#40025307)

Assume that the Many Worlds interpretation is true. In this case, what's to stop our Sun from being a superflare star, flaring on average every seventy five years or so? This would mean that our world and everything we know of the benign nature of the local stellar environment is just an artifact of our survival along an extremely low-probability path of the tree of all possibilities describing the existence of the earth in some approximately life-friendly form.

In effect, we're living in an instance. Reality isn't quite so friendly, taken as a whole.

Re:Spooky thought... (1)

jpatters (883) | about 2 years ago | (#40026199)

From spooky to downright disturbing, because if that is true, then the passengers of the very first viable colony expedition to another star will look back and see a super flare roast the Earth to a cinder just as soon as they are out of range.

Re:Spooky thought... (1)

Ruie (30480) | about 2 years ago | (#40028267)

From spooky to downright disturbing, because if that is true, then the passengers of the very first viable colony expedition to another star will look back and see a super flare roast the Earth to a cinder just as soon as they are out of range.

Too complicated. We'll just get a signle Boltzmann brain [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Spooky thought... (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#40026787)

Not a problem. If many world is true I don't have to worry because there's always a future on one of the branches ahead of me where I will continue to live happily.

Leaves a lot of data out of the story (1)

Bruha (412869) | about 2 years ago | (#40025429)

Sun like stars, what composition are they, their ages, binary systems etc.

I would be curious if they could say what their rotational speeds were compared to our Sun, if these super flare stars have high rotational speeds it could provide enough twisting to create these.

The hot planet theory would mean the mass of the planet had to be high enough and the distance close enough that the gravity center was inside the star to stir it up enough I would think. The idea that some teleconnection or alignment could cause these to flare is okay, but another possibility is that a rocky planet with a mass of jupiter could be inside the flare as well hence not seeing it, or it's speed and the timing of the flare means it's gone around by the time the flare explodes.

this (1)

EtaCarinae (1149927) | about 2 years ago | (#40025943)

Yeah,
I wager rotation speed lies behind this. Even if it is possible to see the surface speeds using Doppler spectrum spreading or something, maybe the cores can rotate even faster? A high rotation speed could also be indicative of a different early formation history making the likeliness of close Jupiters small. Another explanation could be that these suns have indeed had close gas giants in the past which now has long crashed into the sun and thereby increased the spin.

I know! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40027759)

Perhaps a bunch of little girls and boys will continue the human race on an alien world around the Yggdrasil after the pumpkin smashing flare of a solar origin.

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