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Annual tree rings reveal devastating radiation storms

Annual tree rings reveal devastating radiation storms

In 1859, the Earth was hit by the largest solar storm in recent times.

Over the course of a day, our planet was hit by streams of solar particles that short-circuited telegraph systems around the world, and the particles caused the aurora borealis to extend as far south as the Caribbean.

Imagine a cosmic radiation storm about 80 times more powerful, lasting for years, and hitting our planet today. It will essentially shut down all of our satellites, all of our internet connections, and all of our electrical infrastructure.

These radiation storms are called miyake events. They collide with the Earth about every 1,000 years, and a new one could hit us within a decade.

This is evidenced by the study of radioactive isotopes in tree rings from the University of Queensland in Australia, the results of which showed Published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

Annual gossip episodes

The Miyake events are named after physicist Fusa Miyake, who already in 2012 found hidden astrophysical data in the annual rings of cedar and pine. These showed that a giant radiation storm had hit the Earth in 774 AD (our era).

More precisely, it found a high concentration of radioactive isotopes in the form of carbon-14 in the annual rings of trees.

When high-energy particles collide with nitrogen atoms in the upper atmosphere, radioactive carbon-14 is formed, the form of carbon that can “live” the longest.

It often finds its way into the carbon cycle of plants, so ancient tree rings contain carbon-14 that can tell us about radioactive events from the past.

Other Miyaki events occurred in the years 993 AD, 660, 5259, 5410 and 7176 BC (before our era).

Scientists believe that solar flares cause superstorms, but this theory is being challenged by the new study.

Storm formations a mystery

The research team behind the new study reviewed all available episode data. There, they were able to infer carbon density, timing, and periods to determine which events correspond to the Miyake events.

The researchers were surprised that the previously detected Miyake events did not coincide with the large energy charges that were expelled from the sun.

In fact, other research has shown that higher solar activity increases the solar wind, which helps protect the Earth from cosmic rays.

However, the research group believes that cosmic radiation from outside our solar system may have found its way to Earth during a period when the sun had almost no sunspots or solar flares that could shield against radiation from outside; The so-called solar minimum.

Another alternative is that the Miyake events have nothing to do with the Sun, but rather are caused by supernovae or other cosmic events such as hypermagnetic neutron stars.

Although researchers don’t have a definitive answer for the causes of the Miyake events, they did find that at least one Miyake event lasted for more than a year. There are indications that others have lasted longer.

This means that Earth could be at risk of ending up in a cosmic radiation storm that could last for years.

Additionally, scientists believe there is a 1% chance that Miyake will hit Earth within the next decade.

In a world like ours that depends on electricity, this could have disastrous consequences. Therefore, we need to investigate how cosmic ray storms form. This way, we can learn how we can protect ourselves in the future, the researchers concluded.

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