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Could a Solar Flare destroy life on our planet?

  1. Oct 30, 2007 #1
    First post. I am doing research for a script I am writing. Figured this was a good place to pose the question. Could a solar flare burn off our atmosphere and/or cause enough radiation, heat, and damage that life could not survive? Basically, I need a natural way for the earth to be destroyed without using asteroids, aliens, nukes, etc..... OR something that would destroy the earth within ten minutes after humanity learning of its existence. We have thought of anti-matter clouds, large planetoids messing with gravity, black holes, gravitational wells, and a bunch of other stuff. But, I still want to go with a solar flare. Anyone who helps will be in the credits... not that you really care about that! Thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 30, 2007 #2

    Meir Achuz

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  4. Oct 30, 2007 #3
    As long as the earth has magnetics and atmosphere, the solar flares can not do any harm to life on earth, let alone destroy it.
    I am more concerned about the deficit of fossil fuel in possible near future
  5. Oct 30, 2007 #4

    This is true.... but what about a SUPER-flare... I have read one can easily scotch one side of our planet. Screw the "Earth", I just want to know if a super flare would wipe US out. I think it would... then again I am working with fiction... where can I learn more about Super-Flares? I need to numb the technical info down for the layman.
  6. Oct 30, 2007 #5
    I have never heard a super flare. The Sun is one of the very stable stars of its type and we can not expect those super ones in quite a long time.
  7. Oct 30, 2007 #6
    Fiction people, fiction. Someone from another forum writes: "It is coronal mass ejections that depress the Earth's magnetosphere. If they're massive enough, and energetic enough, they could depress the magnetosphere to ground level and cause extinction events. But the key word here is mass: and that means it can't be traveling at light speed, so it would take on the order of many hours to arrive.

    Superflares, on the other hand, can do extensive damage to our technological infrastructure (destroy the electronics in satellites, burn out transformers via surges in the power grid, etc.). This is not directly the cause of an extinction event. It certainly is conceivable that a very concentrated solar flare could radiate enough energy to fry lifeforms at the surface, but that radiation has to get through the magnetosphere first.

    So, I would propose that a more likely scenario would occur during Solar Max (the maximum of the solar cycle) and would involve a huge coronal mass ejection (CME) followed several hours later by a superflare ... the timing would be such that the flare would hit the Earth within seconds of the arrival of the more massive, slower-moving, CME."
  8. Nov 1, 2007 #7
    Some kind of Man-Made Faraday Cage

    Pertaining to Gigantic solar flares, would it be theoretically possible to construct some kind of Faraday Cage around the Earth temporarily until all the protons are absorbed by the conducting metal? I was watching on Discovery's Planet Storm that a huge solar flare, something that out Sun is capable of doing, could wipe out all electrical networks as well as damage the atmosphere.

    So, the material in question would have to do double duty: absorb charged particles at low wavelength, and redistribute any external electromagnetic fields. The only question now is the ground. I'm assuming the faraday cage would be advanced enough to run convert to electrical energy inside the material to IR/microwave, which can be wirelessly beamed over time to microwave towers to harness the energy of the solar flare?

    Does this sound bogus or is it theoretically possible? The only thing is, we'll have to have a really advanced warning system, so we could put up the faraday cage only when necessary. Perhaps this is the future of microwave transmission electricity?

    Any comments/suggestions appreciated :)
  9. Nov 7, 2007 #8


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    There is no paleontological evidence of extinctions triggered by a solar flare, so it is an unlikely scenario.
  10. Nov 8, 2007 #9
    I saw a (pretty lame) documentary a while ago about end-of-the-world scenarios that included something very similar to the scenario posted above. A severe coronal mass ejection caused the magnetosphere to fracture and was quickly followed by a solar flare which fried a good portion of the Earth's surface. The likelihood is very low, but that's why we have fiction, right?
  11. Nov 21, 2007 #10
    Just interested in this. Can these be detected in the soil? How about the massive nucular/meteorite explosion that occurred in Russia that stripped all the trees? No-one knows whether there was anyone out there at the time of this event. I can understand how radioactive radiation can be detected as an increase in background radiation in an area, but do solar flares etc produce radiation like this? Maybe it can be detected in the rings of trees?
  12. Nov 22, 2007 #11
    a superfalare does exist and as a matter of fact one occured not long ago. these have another name: solar maximum and they occur every around hundred years. instaed of breaking through earths magnetosphere it just forces it closer to earth which in the north and south poles is very close so it malfunctions all electric devices and if flying can tug your plane.
  13. Nov 22, 2007 #12

    This particular solar flare/CME was the largest flare recorded in modern times. Something like that which was aimed directly at earth would certainly cause "problems", but keep in mind that life has flourished on earth for billions of years, and it's rather resilient. I personally doubt that a standard solar flare could rip off the atmosphere of earth, and I'm quite sure it would take more than 10 minutes for such a wave of energy to reach earth. My guess is that a direct hit from a very large solar flare would light up the aurora to incredible proportions, and it would wreak havoc on our communication systems, but we'd probably live to tell about it. :)
  14. Nov 22, 2007 #13
    Hi Silver.

    I just saw your posts and the responses for the first time today. I want you to be aware of another approach that might work for your plot treatment, that would withstand scientific scrutiny for accuracy and plausibility, perhaps in some ways even better than a solar flare.

    Instead, seriously consider the idea of using a GAMMA RAY BURST (GRB), which is basically a blast of gamma rays washing over planet earth from a sudden unanticipated supernova explosion of a nearby star. You could have the burst be very brief, i.e. essentially seriously damaging or eliminating life just on the side of the planet facing the the star. Or, you could lengthen it to cover enough of the planet to cause a complete extinction. If you look at a globe, the Pacific Ocean covers almost one half of the planet, so all human and terrestial life is facing one way, so serious damage could occur within 10 minutes, and you can customize the exent of life damage to your plot by adjusting the distance of the star, the length of the burst, and the position of earth in its rotation (the time of day). Also, a GRB from a nearby star would produce a spectacular visual effect. GRB's have been considered as possible causes of past mass extinctions on planet earth. The only reason why life wasn't completely eliminated was that the GRB's have so far been from stars in our galaxy that are too far away to kill everything.

    Properly portrayed, you will introduce your audience to a very frightening scenario and give people anxiety and nightmares about something that they didn't even know existed.

    Here are a few links for more information:


  15. Jun 11, 2008 #14
    I ran into your query late, but it interests me, as I was doing identical research to answer similar questions for a fictional book I am writing. Personally, I think the previous answers are somewhat shallow and shortsighted. As I researched, I found definite evidence that we are ignoring a potentially catastrophic event here. In fact, there is something called the "Carrington Flare", an event that occurred in 1859, that is said to have melted all the telegraph wires, set numerous fires, and actually fried a couple of telegraph operators in their seats. This is by far largest flare ever recorded, but because electricity was in its infancy, it went largely unnoticed. Later exploration into ice core history confirmed that this was an unusual event, but I am not sure how far into the past they delved. In any case, a major disruption (or destruction) of communication and GPS satellites would certainly cripple wireless communication and navigational systems. The flare itself could destroy electrical transformers, melt wiring, and start fires. Who says flares come in ones? Maybe a series of two or three, timed right, could affect us globally. A REALLY serious event can burn off our electromagnetic shield and cause major radiation harm to plants and animals. Hope you plowed right ahead with you script...you were on the right track!
  16. Jun 15, 2008 #15
    magnetospheres are a wonderful thing.
  17. Jun 16, 2008 #16
    I like that idea too i found another article relating to gamma ray bursts by using Meir Achuz's link.

  18. Jun 16, 2008 #17
    I'd just like to point out that, although there was a "Carrington Flare", it would appear that no one died from it: http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2008/06may_carringtonflare.htm [Broken]

    It was very impressive from what I read, but it's still no extinction mechanism. Even if it was possible for a flare to be that powerful, many people know about solar flares and believe them to be relatively minor things. As such, they may be less drawn in by a "killer solar flare" plot device.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  19. Jul 18, 2008 #18
    If there were a sequence of solar maximums then what would happen? If if one can push earths magnetosphere inwards what could multiple do?
  20. Jul 18, 2008 #19


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    It's not going to break unless it changes from internal flows of the magneto of inner earth. When the temporary effects of solar events subside then the field would return to station protecting biosphere earth again. This is not to say satellite's would be unaffected and we wouldn't experience communication or power grid problems here, but I'd think it unlikely to be an extinction event at least to the extent that these solar events have happened in the near past.

    Looking out hundreds of millions of years, the sun will begin to cook the planet and a flare from a greatly expanded sun might just reach out and cause such an event. But in our era I think you should be able to sleep with some sense of security.
  21. Jul 20, 2008 #20


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    The magnetic reversal probably had an impact on mutations since it would let in damaging cosmic rays.
    You might want to check out the following books.

    "The Magnetic Field of the Earth" by R.T. Merrill, M.W. McElhinny, and P.L. McFadden (Academic Press, 1996).
    I'll quote a few things for your interest. p. 182 has a chart of the magnetic reversals for the last 18 M. years. In the last 10 M. years there have been 46 magnetic reversals. (.780, .990, 1.070, 1.770, 1.950, 2.140, 2.150, 2.581, 3.040, 3.110, 3.220, 3.330, 3.580, 4.180, 4.290, 4.480, 4.620, 4.800, 4.890, 4.980, 5.230, 5.894, 6.137, 6.269, 6.567, 6.935, 7.091, 7.135, 7.170, 7.341, 7.375, 7.432, 7.562, 7.650, 8.072, 8.225, 8.257, 8.699, 9.025, 9.230, 9.308, 9.580, 9.642, 9.740, 9.880, 9.920 ). Data from Cande and Kent (1995) which includes both marine magnetic anomaly records and magnetostratigraphic sections.

    p. 184 There is an other time scale showing magnetic changes to 160 M years.

    p.196 The Cretaceous Superchron, which extends from approximately 118 M years to 83 M years (Cande and Kent, 1995).

    p. 244 Has a chart showing the Relative variations in the Earth's diople moment for the past 4 M year as determined from deep-sea sediment cores. There are 25 accepted magnetic reversals and drifting poles in this time period.

    Another good book, "Reversals of the Earth's Magnetic Field", by J. A. Jacobs, sec. edition 1994, Cambridge University Press
    From the present to .780 M. yrs.( identified as Brunhes/Matuyama) there are 10 contested observations of the variations of the magnetic poles. The times are: Githenburg flip 12,350, Mono 28,000, Lake Mungo 30,000, Laschamp 50,000, Blake 110,000, Lake Biwa I 176,000, Biwa II 292,000, Biwa III 380,000, Big Lost 575,000, and Delta 645,000.

    My observation: In the last 65 M. years the evolution of the mammals had a lot of help/hinderance from the sun ( 46 times). I think that we had a lot of bad luck. The mutations, which, most of the times are bad, did happen to us.

    I hope someone can make a believable story that would encourage scientific investigation and publications.
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