Large Eruption From Nearby Star Is a Warning for Earth

The sun blazing in 2012.

Large solar flare in March 2012.
Photo: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) (Getty Images)

A star more than 100 light-years away in the constellation of Draco teaches us some troubling things about our sun. the star EK DraconisRecently, researchers were surprised when blasted out in an explosive light that showed more activity than anything observed from our local star. If our sun were to erupt the same way, that would be very bad news for our electrical networks and satellites.

EK Draconis is about the same mass as the Sun but much younger, with an age of about 100 million years (compared to the Sun’s age of 4.6 billion years). Sometimes, the plasma can return to the surface of the Sun and illuminate in what is called a solar flare. Those flares could be as small, like the little ‘campfire’ on our sun that was first observed by NASA’s Solar Orbiter. last year, but sometimes these energy arcs can be much larger.

Extremely hot materials can be ejected into space in what is called a coronal mass ejection. A team of researchers studying EK Draconis recently saw the star spewing plasma in an explosion 10 times larger than any previous explosion from a Sun-like star. Their results were published Today in Natural Astronomy.

Study co-author Yuta Notsu, an astrophysicist at the University of California at Boulder and the University of California at Boulder National Solar Observatory, said in an email to Gizmodo. “Although such very large events occur more frequently at a younger age, this event could be a proxy for potential super-CMEs associated with potentially larger super-CMEs once every hundred or thousand years on our present sun.”

So maybe one day our Sun can release a similarly large boost from the corona. Even the mildest solar flares we’re seeing already exist impose enough; When directed at Earth, this phenomenon can interfere with electronics and satellite orbits. A coronal mass launch of such a large size would completely fry those satellites and Hitting entire electrical networks.

Solar flare from June 2015.

The Notsu team observed EK Draconis for 32 nights in 2020 using NASA’s TESS satellite, which usually searches for new exoplanets, and the SEMEI Telescope of Kyoto University in Japan. One night in April, they saw the astonishing spectacle: the star emitted an enormous glow, which was followed about half an hour later by the first stages of a coronal mass ejection. That stage – called a filament eruption – saw the plasma blast from the star at up to a million miles per hour.

So far, Notsu said, the team has only observed that initial phase of coronal mass ejection; To see the later stages, they will need to look at EK Draconis at different wavelengths using ultraviolet and X-ray telescopes. “Furthermore,” Notsu added, “we would also like to collaborate more with planetary scientists to have more detailed discussions about the effects of the super CME on the young solar system.”

When our Sun gets bigger – much bigger – its behavior will become more extreme, with the star eventually spiraling outward and then rapidly condensing to become a white dwarf. By then, humans (or perhaps more accurately, whatever humans evolve into) will likely no longer exist. But if we were, we’d burn brittle, so perhaps it’s best to be grateful for the sun as it exists today and avoid any superlatives like EK Draconis.


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