Feeds

Boffins fear killer gamma death blasts from space

Short, hard and hot eruptions lead to unhappy ending...

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

Boffins have discovered that short hard bursts of radiation in space caused by colliding stars could be as dangerous to the world's atmosphere as longer, high-energy ones.

Studies have already shown that long bursts of gamma radiation from space, such as those caused by supernovae and extreme solar flares, can punch holes in the ozone layer, letting powerful and damaging amounts of ultraviolet radiation through to the Earth's surface.

But astrophysicists at Washburn University in Colorado have now found that short discharges are "probably more significant", even though they usually last for less than a second.

"The duration is not as important as the amount of radiation," said Brian Thomas, who will be presenting the findings at the annual general meeting of the The Geological Society of America on Sunday. "What I focused on was the longer term effects."

The short radiation blasts are thought to be caused by the collision of two neutron stars or even black holes careening into each other, and if such an event happened inside the Milky Way, the results could be devastating to the Earth's surface and oceans.

The main consequence of the blast would be to deplete the ozone layer, which would wreck the planet. The radiation surge would knock oxygen and nitrogen atoms out of stability, which would then recombine as nitrous oxide and hang around doing more damage until they were rained out.

Based on observations of other galaxies, these short hard bursts take place about once every 100 million years, but it is very difficult to tell when Earth has been struck by them.

Any evidence that may have been left in space is long gone, so researchers need to look for evidence in the rocks here on the planet to try to establish when events may have taken place, and if they correlate to planetary extinctions.

"I work with some paleontologists and we try to look for correlations with extinctions, but they are skeptical," said Thomas. "So if you go and give a talk to paleontologists, they are not quite into it. But to astrophysicists, it seems pretty plausible." ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
ANU boffins demo 'tractor beam' in water
The current state of the art, apparently
China to test recoverable moon orbiter
I'll have some rocks and a moon cheese pizza please, home delivery
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
Why your mum was WRONG about whiffy tattooed people
They're a future source of RENEWABLE ENERGY
Vulture 2 spaceplane autopilot brain surgery a total success
LOHAN slips into some sexy bespoke mission parameters
Another step forward for diamond-based quantum computers
Square cut or pear-shaped, these qubits don't lose their shape
LOHAN acquires aircraft arboreal avoidance algorithm acronyms
Is that an ARMADILLO in your PANTS or are you just pleased to see me?
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.