Solar flare ‘ten times the size of any on our sun’ is spotted on tiny star

Rob Waugh
(University of Warwick)
(University of Warwick)

Astronomers have spotted a vast solar flare, ten times more powerful than anything our sun could produce, bursting from a cool, small star about the size of Jupiter.

The tiny star is the smallest ever seen emitting a rare white-light ‘superflare’, the researchers say.

The dwarf star is so tiny that it’s right on the boundary between being a star and a brown dwarf – and was too faint for telescopes to spot.

Then University of Warwick researchers spotted the massive eruption in its chromosphere in an optical survey of the surrounding stars.

Lead author James Jackman, a PhD student in the University of Warwick’s Department of Physics, said: ‘The activity of low mass stars decreases as you go to lower and lower masses and we expect the chromosphere (a region of the star which support flares) to get cooler or weaker.

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‘The fact that we’ve observed this incredibly low mass star, where the chromosphere should be almost at its weakest, but we have a white-light flare occurring shows that strong magnetic activity can still persist down to this level.

‘It’s right on the boundary between being a star and a brown dwarf, a very low mass, substellar object. Any lower in mass and it would definitely be a brown dwarf. By pushing this boundary we can see whether these type of flares are limited to stars and if so, when does this activity stop? This result takes us a long way to answering these questions.’

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