Recently, a New York Times article drew attention to a corona that’s not a virus and that makes life possible instead of threatening it. The corona, or outermost part of the sun’s atmosphere, puzzles astronomers because it is, as compared with similar stars, so calm.
We take the sun for granted, unless it disappears for a few cloudy days or burns us at the beach or, less often, disrupts satellite communications. Once every century or so, it might burp enough energy to fry technology and maybe even ignite the Northern Lights over the Caribbean, as happened in 1859. Aside from instances such as these, it’s easy to forget that the local star that warms our faces and wakens our flowers, this “blazing ball of fusion-powered plasma,” is actually capable, at least in theory, of scorching our planet and all of us to a lifeless cinder.
However, a new paper published in the journal “Science” suggests that’s exactly the sort of thing we should expect from the sun, if it behaved like other stars of its kind. But it doesn’t. The good news is, as the Times put it, the star around which we orbit is downright “boring” compared with its solar siblings.
Astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, after compiling data from NASA’s retired Kepler space telescope, which spent years monitoring 150,000 distant stars, concluded that our sun’s relative calm is among the reasons we are here at all.
After identifying 369 comparable stars in our galaxy, these scientists learned something astounding: The magnetic activity that creates the sunspots, solar flares, and coronal mass ejections on other stars is, on average, five times more intense than on our sun. On many stars that were studied, disruptions were even twelve times more intense. That level of chaos makes life in their orbits virtually impossible.
So why would our sun behave so differently than all the others? One unsettling theory, especially given the “what else could possibly go wrong” start to 2020, is that our sun is currently asleep, but might, at some point, wake up and blast us with deadly levels of radiation. Another idea is that our sun is aging, and because it is now over-the-hill, has fewer bursts of energy to give off.
That sounds reasonable to those of us reaching middle age.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris