Researchers show the effects on earth

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A gamma-ray burst significantly changed Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists are now studying what happens when such an explosion occurs near Earth.

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

Now an Italian-Chinese research group is following suit. The group led by Mirko Piersanti (University of L’Aquila in Italy) published it in the specialized journal Nature communications published a study on the impact of the gamma-ray burst on the Earth’s atmosphere. Study shows: The cosmic explosion literally shook 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).

A huge burst of gamma rays has hit Earth’s atmosphere

The gamma ray burst on October 9, 2022 was so violent that lightning detectors went into operation in India. Measuring instruments in Germany also recorded that the Earth’s ionosphere was disturbed for several hours. The enormous amounts of energy that must have been involved gave Piersanti’s research group the idea of ​​studying the effects of 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). © IMAGO/Cover images

The ionosphere is the upper layer of the Earth’s atmosphere that contains electrically charged gases. It extends from approximately 50 kilometers to 950 kilometers altitude. The ionosphere is so thin that space probes can orbit the Earth there. The research team used such a space probe for its 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 a gamma ray burst

In fact, on October 9, 2022, the research team managed to detect a change in the CSES data: the electric field of the upper ionosphere had changed significantly for several hours. “It’s amazing. “We can see things happening in the depths of space, but they also affect Earth,” says ESA project scientist Erik Kuulkers. The gamma-ray burst took place in a galaxy nearly two billion light-years away from Earth – and still had enough energy to influence Earth’s atmosphere.

The impact on the upper ionosphere was enormous: the gamma-ray burst lasted about seven minutes – but the research team could observe the impact on the ionosphere in the satellite data for about 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 large explosion occurs near Earth?

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

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

For this article written by the editorial staff, mechanical assistance was used. The article was carefully checked by editor Tanja Banner before publication.

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