Last year, on October 9, scientists witnessed an anomaly in the sky.
Emerging from the interstellar darkness, an abundance of deep-space X-rays began to flood observatories. These signals appear to be linked to an extremely bright event occurring in our galaxy known as a gamma ray burst (GRB) — a stream of highly energetic particles associated with things like star explosions and the birth of black holes. But as one expert said, for example, these GRBs are to a standard what a floodlight is to a light bulb.
The event was dramatic enough at first glance. He was forecast It is the brightest GRB explosion since the beginning of human civilization and shows photons containing more energy than what is produced by the Large Hadron Collider. In fact, it was given a cheeky name to complement its official title GRB 221009A: BOAT, which is short for “Brightest of All Time.” But then, scientists realized something even more surprising about the boat. They did not actually originate from the Milky Way. No, the boat came from a galaxy beyond our own, or in other words, the boat’s brightness cannot be overstated.
Now, on Tuesday (November 14), researchers came out with a paper that begins to answer one of the questions you might have: What does an ultra-bright gamma-ray burst mean for us?
According to the new study, the seven-minute explosion (still detectable 10 hours later) appears to have led to significant “changes” in Earth’s atmosphere. Even more surprising is that these differences exist in our planet’s upper ionosphere, the barrier between us and outer space. If true, this would be the first time we’ve seen a GRB impact this region, the team says. “We have been measuring gamma-ray bursts since the 1960s, and this is the most powerful ever measured,” says Pietro Ubertini of the National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome, a co-author of the new study. He said in a statement.
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Why are these results important? Well, life on our planet depends on the stability of the Earth’s atmosphere. “There has been great controversy about the potential consequences of a gamma-ray burst in our galaxy,” study lead author Mirco Piersanti of the University of L’Aquila in Italy said in the statement.
What do you mean by “differences”?
Earth’s atmosphere has a few layers, with the ionosphere located at the top, extending between about 31 miles (50 kilometers) and 590 miles (950 kilometers) in altitude. Anywhere above 217 miles (350 km) is considered the upper half. Most importantly, throughout the ionosphere are charged particles, or ions. The new authors saw disturbances in the upper half, at an altitude of about 310 miles (500 kilometers).
These disturbances/differences/disturbances that the researchers talk about in the new study mainly indicate a change in the electric field of the upper atmosphere. This means that all those charged ionospheric particles are directly affected. Ionospheric perturbations like this are usually associated with energetic particle events originating from our Sun, but scientists believe the boat’s interference was the result of the explosion of a star located approximately two billion light-years away.
This is part of the reason why everyone is so amazed by the fact that it affects the outer atmosphere of our planet.
“We can see things happening in deep space but they also affect Earth,” ESA project scientist Eric Kolkers said in the statement. Statistically speaking, ESA officials said GRBs this bright should reach our planet only once every 10,000 years or so.
When these outbursts arrived here, they activated lightning detectors in India, alerted devices in Germany, spread evidence of their own photon flux over Asia and parts of Australia, and even cast a long afterglow.
For the new study, the researchers analyzed the boat using data from the China Seismic and Electromagnetic Spacecraft (CSES) in low Earth orbit, which is typically used to study how earthquakes shift objects in the ionosphere. That’s how they found the results published today, although they used other instruments to model their final conclusions, such as the European Space Agency’s Integral satellite. “We looked for this effect from other GRB explosions in the past but saw nothing,” Ubertini said.
“To our knowledge, these GRBs are among the largest GRBs ever discovered,” the authors wrote in the new paper.
To be clear, BOAT affected some of the lower layers of the ionosphere as well.
“It is noteworthy that this disturbance affected the lower layers of the Earth’s ionosphere, which lies only tens of kilometers above the surface of our planet, leaving a signature similar to that of a large solar flare,” said Laura Hayes, a solar physicist at the European Space Agency and co-author of the paper. . Study 2022 Regarding the consequences of the decrease in the ionosphere, according to the statement.
It’s okay, we’re fine
Although the ESA says “analyzing the aftermath of the explosion could provide information about mass extinctions in Earth’s history,” the team’s paper doesn’t quite suggest that an eruption like BOAT could spell the end of humanity. Instead, this eruption could give us insight into what could happen if nearby, threatening GRBs actually collided with our planet.
In their new paper, for example, the team writes: “The potential to suddenly increase atmospheric ionization could lead to stratospheric ozone depletion on a global scale.”
The ozone layer can be considered the Earth’s sunscreen, protecting our planet’s inhabitants from harmful ultraviolet rays emitted by the sun. If our bodies absorb too much of those rays, it can lead to things like increased risk of cancer and cataracts. If plants are exposed to too much ultraviolet radiation, Many of them will die.
But don’t panic yet, as our ozone seems to be relatively fine (even the ozone hole is recovering). However, scientists are interested in what future GRB explosions could do to us. This investigation is exactly what the new study team had in mind.
Meanwhile, other astronomers continue to look into the cause of the boat. It’s a little confusing. For example, the James Webb Space Telescope and Hubble Space Telescope teams tried their hand at this, but The search came up emptyas neither of them was able to determine the effects of a star explosion in the boat patch of the universe.
There’s also a lot to study using the boat’s original X-ray signals, as the wavelengths had to travel across a vast expanse of space before reaching us, crossing dust clouds and other phenomena in the universe and picking up valuable information along the way. – Ready for humans to decode.
It was the study published Out November 14 in Nature Communications.
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