Researchers show effects on Earth

Researchers show effects on Earth

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A gamma ray burst significantly changed Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists are now researching what happens when such an explosion occurs close to Earth.

L’Aquila – The extraordinarily bright and long-lasting pulse of high-energy radiation that hit Earth last year is still a concern for researchers. After all, it’s no wonder that GRB 221009A was “probably the brightest explosion in the X-ray and gamma-ray range that has occurred since the beginning of human civilization,” as researcher Eric Burns suspected.

Now, a Chinese-Italian research team is following suit. The group led by Mirko Piersanti (University of L’Aquila in Italy) published in the specialized magazine Nature Communications published a study on the impact of gamma ray bursts on the Earth’s atmosphere. The study shows: The cosmic explosion literally shook the Earth’s atmosphere. “It was probably the brightest gamma-ray burst we have ever observed,” Piersanti said in a statement from the European Space Agency (ESA).

Huge gamma ray burst hit Earth’s atmosphere

The gamma ray burst on October 9, 2022 was so violent that lightning detectors were triggered in India. Measuring devices in Germany also recorded that Earth’s ionosphere was disturbed for several hours. The enormous amounts of energy involved gave Piersanti’s research team the idea to study the effects of the gamma-ray burst on Earth’s upper ionosphere.

Artist's impression of the giant gamma-ray burst of October 2022: A black hole launches jets of matter into space that emit X-rays and gamma rays (magenta).
Artist’s impression of the giant gamma-ray burst of October 2022: A black hole launches jets of matter into space that emit X-rays and gamma rays (magenta). © IMAGO/Cover images

The ionosphere is the upper layer of Earth’s atmosphere that contains electrically charged gases. It extends from about 50 kilometers to 950 kilometers in altitude. The ionosphere is so thin that space probes can orbit the Earth there. The research team used this space probe for their investigations. The China Seismo-Electromagnetic Satellite (CSES) is a joint space mission between China and Italy that studies changes in the electromagnetic behavior of the upper ionosphere.

Ionosphere hit by gamma ray burst

In fact, the research team was able to detect a change in the CSES data on October 9, 2022: the electric field of the upper ionosphere changed significantly over several hours. “It’s wonderful. “We can see things that happen deep in space that also influence Earth,” says Esa project scientist Erik Kuulkers. The gamma ray burst occurred in a galaxy almost two billion light years away. of Earth – and still had enough energy to affect the Earth’s atmosphere.

The impact on the upper ionosphere was enormous: the gamma-ray burst lasted around seven minutes – but the research team was able to observe the impact on the ionosphere in satellite data for around ten hours. The research team now plans to use the data to understand how explosions in space affect Earth’s atmosphere.

What happens if a big explosion occurs near Earth?

Furthermore, we will study in more detail what happens when a large explosion – such as a supernova – occurs close to Earth. “There has been a great deal of debate about the possible consequences of a gamma-ray burst in our galaxy,” explains Piersanti.

In the worst case scenario, such an explosion could not only hit the ionosphere but also damage the ozone layer, researchers warn. Then, dangerous ultraviolet radiation from the Sun could reach Earth’s surface – an effect that may have triggered mass extinctions on Earth in the past. (tab)

Machine assistance was used for this article written by the editorial team. The article was carefully checked by editor Tanja Banner before publication.

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