Ferocious Solar Storms May Have Helped Life Take Root on Earth, NASA Says – ABC News

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Ferocious solar storms 4 billion years ago may have been key to warming the Earth and creating the right conditions for life to form on the planet, according to a new study by a team of NASA scientists.

NASA’s Kepler mission discovered young sun-like stars and found they released “superflares,” which are enormous explosions of energy that often include solar material, as much as ten times per day. By comparison, superflares are so rare today that NASA points out we experience them about once a century.

Using this information, NASA placed the stars in order according to their age, creating a timeline that gives researchers new insight into how our sun evolved over billions of years. From this data, researchers learned the sun shone with about three-quarters of the luminosity is has today, according to research published Monday in Nature Geoscience.

The timeline allowed scientists to model how our young, active sun may have impacted Earth billions of years ago.

“Back then, Earth received only about 70 percent of the energy from the sun than it does today,” Vladimir Airapetian, lead author of the paper and a solar scientist at NASA, said in a statement. “That means Earth should have been an icy ball. Instead, geological evidence says it was a warm globe with liquid water. We call this the Faint Young Sun Paradox. Our new research shows that solar storms could have been central to warming Earth.”

With the sun spewing massive amounts of solar material and radiation, the NASA team said these explosions may have provided energy to warm Earth and bring energy needed to turn simple molecules into the more complex RNA and DNA — necessary ingredients for fostering life.

William Danchi, principal investigator of the project, said understanding Earth’s early days may help scientists glean new insights into where else life may exist in the universe.

“We want to gather all this information together, how close a planet is to the star, how energetic the star is, how strong the planet’s magnetosphere is in order to help search for habitable planets around stars near our own and throughout the galaxy,” Danchi said in a statement.

Solar storms are the result of a coronal mass ejection — basically a flare of charged particles — that burst from the sun. They’re less common today than they were billions of years ago, according to NASA. Earth enjoys a layer of protection due to its strong magnetic field, which keeps a large amount of the energy from reaching Earth. However, some particularly strong solar events can interact with the magnetosphere and potentially wreak havoc on certain technology on Earth.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration classifies solar storms on a scale of one to five (one being the weakest; five being the most severe). For instance, a storm forecast to be a G3 event means it could have the strength to cause fluctuations in some power grids, intermittent radio blackouts in higher latitudes and possible GPS issues.

Ferocious Solar Storms May Have Helped Life Take Root on Earth, NASA Says – ABC News