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Tiny dwarf star shocks astronomers by blasting out X100,000-class mega-flare

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Wednesday, October 8, 2014, 6:16 PM - NASA's Swift satellite - put into space to detect gamma ray bursts - spotted something unexpected recently. A tiny red dwarf star erupted with a flare so large and so bright that it far outranked anything our own Sun is even capable of producing.

Our Sun can blast out some exceptionally large solar flares at times. The largest we know about was in September of 1859, when an intense flare - estimated at somewhere around X75-class - erupted out, with a coronal mass ejection that was aimed squarely at Earth. If such an event - called the Carrington Event - happened today, it's been estimated that it would completely burn out our orbiting satellites and put us here on the planet in the dark for months, if not longer. More recently, in 2003, another flare that measured around X45-class blasted out from the Sun, but this one was not Earth-directed. It was still the largest flare ever recorded by instruments and it actually managed to overload some of the instruments used to record it.

Even as big as these flares were, they were nothing compared to what a nearby red dwarf star managed to produce in April of this year. DG Canum Venaticorum (or DG CVn) - one of a binary pair of small red dwarfs that's roughly 60 light years from us - blasted out a superflare that 

"The flare on DG CVn, if viewed from a planet the same distance as Earth is from the sun, would have been roughly 10,000 times greater than this, with a rating of about X 100,000," astrophysicist Stephen Drake, who works at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a news release.

What's more, the star wasn't finished with just one. Just a few hours after this superflare subsided, another one blasted out that was nearly as powerful, and it continued to erupt with more flares for another 20 days before it finally completely settled down again.

"We had no idea DG CVn had this in it," said Rachel Osten, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, according to NASA.

CLICK BELOW TO WATCH: "If you happened to be on a planet around one of these M-dwarfs, when one of these large flares went off, you'd be having a very bad day"

(Source: NASA)

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