Research, Technology

Could a powerful radiation storm hit the Earth?

In the history of our planet there were suddencolossal jumps in the level of radiation for which there is no exact explanation. Such jumps occurred about once every 1000 years. They are recorded as an increased content of radiocarbon in the annual rings of ancient trees. Such bursts of radiation are called Miyake events, after their first researcher. According to the main theory, the periodic sharp increase in the radiation background is caused by powerful solar flares, which are tens of times more powerful than the strongest flare ever recorded by mankind. However, the latest study suggests that the origin of radiation bursts is most likely not related to the Sun. And most importantly, a radiation storm could happen again in the near future.

Massive radiation storm could hit Earth

High radiation in the atmosphere - how it is determined

As you know, annually the trunks of trees of temperatethe belts are overgrown with a new concentric ring. By the number of rings, you can determine the age of a tree, but not only. Since trees absorb carbon, scientists can also know the amount of radiation in the atmosphere that was in a given period of time. This is indicated by the amount of radioactive isotope carbon-14 in the wood. This isotope is produced by the collision of cosmic charged particles with atmospheric nitrogen.

it was previously believed that bursts of background radiation are associated with solar flares

At present, researchers have been able todiscover the six phenomena of Miyake. This is evidenced by annual jumps in the concentration of carbon-14 and some other isotopes. The earliest such jump took place in 7176 BC, and the latest in 774 and 993 AD. On average, the frequency of these events, as mentioned above, is approximately 1000 years. In addition, scientists noticed smaller events, that is, slight increases in background radiation. But they received less attention.

Why did radiation increase on Earth?

In their study, the researchers compared dataassociated with the accumulation of carbon-14 isotope by trees, with an eleven-year cycle of solar activity. They assumed that the Miyake events coincided in time with peak solar activity. This is logical if we assume that the increase in background radiation is caused by the Sun. But, as it turned out, the Miyake events are not related to the solar cycle.

Tree rings contain information about the radiation background of the atmosphere

Scientists also found that some eventslasted one or even two years. Solar flares are known to be very short. As for the power of these phenomena, it is difficult to overestimate it. According to scientists, the “storm” brought down as much energy on Earth as they form in the explosion of 10 billion 1-megaton atomic bombs.

Can a radiation burst happen again?

If radiation bursts are not related to the solaractivity, what could cause them? There are two versions of this. According to one of them, the increase in the background radiation is caused by a supernova explosion. According to another version, these could be solar “superflares”. However, at present, scientists have no evidence that stars like the Sun can produce flares large enough and long enough to cause Miyake events. However, situations where powerful stellar flares destroy exoplanets are not uncommon.

In historical records, scientists have found onlytwo references to these events. One of the Anglo-Saxon chronicles tells of the aurora borealis after sunset. It was seen in 774 AD, that is, it coincides with the Miyake event. However, according to scientists, it could be an optical illusion called the “lunar ring”.

According to one version, a burst of background radiation could be caused by a supernova explosion.

Also, a phenomenon similar to the aurora borealis is mentioned in the Chinese chronicle Jiutangshu. According to these data, the event took place in 775 AD. However, it is not confirmed by other chronicles.

But whatever caused the burst of radiation,according to statistics, it can happen again in the next ten years with a probability of 1%. The chances, though small, are very alarming. If the event repeats, humanity will plunge into the Stone Age - the Internet will stop working, power plants will fail, as a result of which the whole world will be left without light. Of course, navigation satellites and other equipment will stop working. After all, according to scientists, the Miyake event that occurred in 774 was eighty times more powerful than the Carrington event, which we talked about earlier.

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Given the catastrophic consequences of a possibleradiation storm, scientists plan to conduct additional studies soon to more accurately determine the timing of the events and the mixture of isotopes they produced. However, it is still unlikely that Miyake will be able to accurately predict the events.