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Superflares and Giant Planets

From time to time, a few sunlike stars produce gargantuan outbursts. Large planets in tight orbits might account for these eruptions

Eric Rubenstein

Figure 1. Artistic rendition of a distant, sunlike starClick to Enlarge Image

Nine solar analogues, stars similar in size and composition to the Sun, are known to have produced enormous flares. These outbursts, which were from 100 to 10 million times the size of even the largest solar flares, have puzzled astronomers, because sunlike stars should in theory vary little in brightness. A likely explanation is that these stars have unseen planetary companions circling in close orbits. Giant planets with large magnetic fields would, over time, entangle the magnetic fields of the parent stars. Eventually, the stretched and twisted magnetic-field lines would break and reattach themselves in a less complicated arrangement. This process, called magnetic reconnection, neatly explains how vast amounts of energy can be released so suddenly from superflaring solar analogues.


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