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A gamma-ray burst in space shook the ionosphere

A gamma-ray burst in space shook the ionosphere

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The gamma-ray burst that hit Earth in October 2022 was massive. It was not without consequences.

L’Aquila – Last year, Earth was struck by an unusually bright and long-lasting pulse of high-energy radiation. Since then, scientists have been studying gamma-ray bursts and have already come up with exciting results. Now an Italian-Chinese research team is following suit and showing that the explosion in space literally shook the Earth’s atmosphere.

Researcher Eric Burns speculated some time ago that GRB 221009A might have been the brightest explosion in the X-ray and gamma-ray range to have occurred since the beginning of human civilization.

Researcher Mirco Piersanti (University of L’Aquila in Italy) agrees: “This was probably the brightest gamma-ray burst we have ever observed.” He is the leader of a study conducted by the research team on GRB 221009A In the specialized magazine Nature Communications published he have.

The massive gamma ray burst brought large 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 the Earth’s ionosphere had been disrupted 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 a gamma-ray burst on Earth’s upper ionosphere.

Astronomers suspect that GRB 221009A represents the birth of a new black hole that formed at the core of a collapsed star. As shown here, the black hole propels powerful jets of particles that travel at close to the speed of light. The rays penetrate the star and emit X-rays and gamma rays as they stream 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 ranging from 50 km to 950 km. The ionosphere is so thin that space probes can orbit Earth there. The research team used one of these space sensors in their work. The China Electromagnetic Seismic Satellite (CSES) is a Sino-Italian space mission that studies the upper part of the ionosphere in search of changes in its electromagnetic behavior.

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A large explosion in space affected the Earth’s atmosphere

The research team was already able to detect a change in the CSES data on October 9, 2022: the electric field of the upper ionosphere changed significantly for several hours. “It’s amazing. We can see things that happen in the depths of space, but they also affect Earth,” says Eric Kolkers, an ESA project scientist. The gamma-ray burst occurred in a galaxy about two billion light-years from Earth, and is still… It contains enough energy to affect the Earth’s atmosphere.

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

What would happen if a gamma ray burst occurred in our galaxy?

In addition, more detailed research will be conducted into what happens when there is a large explosion – such as a supernova – near Earth. “There has been a lot of controversy about the possible consequences of a gamma-ray burst in our galaxy,” Piersanti explains.

Researchers fear that in the worst case, such an explosion could not only hit the ionosphere, but could also damage the ozone layer. Dangerous ultraviolet radiation from the Sun could then reach the Earth’s surface, an effect that may have been the cause of mass extinctions in the past, as scientists have repeatedly speculated. (unpaid bill)