Gamma-ray burst in space shook the ionosphere

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The gamma ray burst that hit Earth in October 2022 was gigantic. And it has not been without consequences.

L’Aquila – Last year, an unusually bright and long-lasting pulse of high-energy radiation hit Earth. Since then, scientists have been investigating the gamma ray burst and have already come up with interesting findings. Now an Italian-Chinese research team does the same and shows that the explosion in space literally shook the Earth’s atmosphere.

Researcher Eric Burns speculated some time ago that GRB 221009A was probably the brightest burst in the X- and gamma-ray range that has occurred since the beginning of human civilization.

“This is probably the brightest gamma-ray burst we have ever observed,” agrees researcher Mirko Piersanti (University of L’Aquila, Italy). He is the leader of a study on GRB 221009A that the research team published in the journal Nature Communications published.

A huge burst of gamma rays brought huge amounts of energy

The gamma ray burst on October 9, 2022 was so powerful that it activated lightning detectors in India. Instruments in Germany also indicated that Earth’s ionosphere was disturbed for several hours. The large amounts of energy that had to be used gave Piersanti’s research team an idea: they wanted to look for the effects of the gamma-ray burst on Earth’s upper ionosphere.

Astronomers suspect that GRB 221009A represents the birth of a new black hole that formed in the heart of a collapsing star. As shown here, the black hole propels powerful jets of particles traveling near the speed of light. The rays penetrate the star and emit X-rays and gamma rays as they flow into space. (Artist’s impression) © NASA/Swift/Cruz deWilde

The ionosphere is the upper layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, which contains electrically charged gases. It extends at an altitude of around 50 kilometers to 950 kilometers. The ionosphere is so thin that space probes can orbit the Earth there. The research team used one of these space probes for their work. The China Earthquake-Electromagnetic Satellite (CSES) is a Chinese-Italian space mission that studies the upper part of the ionosphere in search of changes in its electromagnetic behavior.

Big explosion in space affected the Earth’s atmosphere

And the research team was able to detect a change in the CSES data on October 9, 2022: 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 influence Earth,” says Esa project scientist Erik Kuulkers. The gamma ray burst occurred in a galaxy almost two billion light years away. from the Earth and still had enough energy to affect the Earth’s atmosphere.

In fact, the impact on the upper ionosphere was enormous: the gamma-ray burst lasted about seven minutes; The research team was able to see the impact on the ionosphere for about ten hours in the satellite data. The research team now wants to use the data to understand how explosions in space affect Earth’s atmosphere.

What happens if there is a gamma ray burst in our galaxy?

In addition, more detailed investigations will be carried out into what happens when a large explosion, such as a supernova, occurs near Earth. “There has been a lot of debate about the possible consequences of a gamma ray burst in our own galaxy,” explains Piersanti.

In the worst case, such an explosion could not only affect the ionosphere, but also damage the ozone layer, researchers fear. The sun’s dangerous ultraviolet radiation could then reach the Earth’s surface, an effect that may have been the trigger for mass extinctions in the past, as scientists have repeatedly speculated. (eyelash)

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