Researchers show effects on Earth.

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A gamma ray burst has significantly changed Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists are now investigating 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 remains a concern for researchers. No wonder, after all, that GRB 221009A was “probably the brightest burst in the X- 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 doing the same. 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 the gamma ray burst 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 hits Earth’s atmosphere

The gamma ray burst on October 9, 2022 was so violent that lightning detectors were activated in India. Measuring devices 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 team the idea of ​​studying the effects of the gamma-ray burst on Earth’s upper ionosphere.

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

The ionosphere is the upper layer of the 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 such a space probe for their investigations. The China Earthquake-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 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 took place in a galaxy almost two billion years away. light from the 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 about seven minutes, but the research team was able to observe the impact on the ionosphere in 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 big explosion happens 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 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 warn. Dangerous ultraviolet radiation from the sun could then reach the Earth’s surface, an effect that may have triggered mass extinctions on Earth in the past. (eyelash)

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

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