Traces of the most powerful solar flare in history were found in tree rings

Scientists working in the French Alps found traces of a colossal solar flare that occurred 14300 years ago in the rings of semi-petrified trees. If such an event happened now, it could disable the entire Earth’s energy system.

Semi-petrified trunks, indicating a flare. Source: Cécile Miramont

Traces in the trees

Approximately 14,300 years ago, the Earth encountered a solar flare of unprecedented power. This is the conclusion reached by researchers studying semi-petrified trees in the French Alps. Scientists from the Collège de France studied them on the banks of the Drouzet River, near Gap.

These trunks have not yet fully mineralized, so carbon can be extracted from them. The researchers did this, resulting in the discovery of an unusual peak of radioactive carbon isotopes; this peak fell at the end of the last ice age.

Isotopes are varieties of atoms of the same element that differ from each other in the number of neutrons. Radioactive carbon is constantly formed in the upper layers of the atmosphere, so its presence in tree rings, where it is deposited, does not cause anyone any questions. However, an incredible amount of it was found in samples from the Drouzet River.

Therefore, scientists suspected that the cause of this could be an extremely powerful solar flare. They compared the results with the Greenland ice cores and made sure that, at the same time, there was an increased amount of beryllium in it. This confirms their assumption.

The most powerful flare in history

A solar flare is a fairly common event on the surface of our luminary. Charged particles from them regularly reach our planet, causing magnetic storms. From time to time they become so strong that they cause communication interruptions in certain territories.

Every few years or decades, a much more powerful flare occurs on the Sun. Then not only radio communication is turned off, but also the power grid. The most powerful event in the history of direct observations is considered to be the Carrington Event, which occurred in 1859, when there was no electric network on Earth yet. Therefore, scientists suggest that we have not yet felt the real fury of the Sun.

After all, observations have been going on only since the end of the XVII century. And from various geological evidence, scientists have learned that over the past 15 thousand years, at least nine times there has been a flare on the Sun that is an order of magnitude more powerful than the Carrington Event. In particular, the so-called “Miyake Events” took place in 774 and 993 AD.

And in 2022, scientists found traces of a giant 9200-year-old flare in the Antarctic ice. However, the new event surpasses even its scale. If it happened now, then there would be serious problems with electricity supply all over the earth.

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