This is alarming! Tree rings predict the most dangerous radiation storm to hit us soon
In September 1859, astronomers Richard C. Carrington and Richard Hodgson observed the most intense geomagnetic storm ever recorded in human history. It is called the Carrington Event. If such a cosmic burst happens today, it will damage our electric grids to an extent that there will be blackouts across the globe.
However, the Carrington Event is nothing compared to what we are gonna tell you next. Many astronomers believed that in about every thousand years, a solar storm, nearly 12 times more intense, disastrous, and powerful than the Carrington Event takes place in the cosmos. It is referred to as the Miyake Event.
Interestingly, a team of researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) has proposed that data from tree rings can help us predict when the next Miyake Event is likely to take place.
While explaining the possible impact of a Miyake Event on human life, one of the authors and astrophysicist at UQ, Dr. Benjamin Pope said in the press release, “The leading theory is that they are huge solar flares. We need to know more because if one of these happened today, it would destroy technology including satellites, internet cables, long-distance power lines, and transformers. The effect on global infrastructure would be unimaginable.”
How do tree rings on Earth predict cosmic bursts in space?
Every time a solar storm occurs, the concentration of the C-14 radioisotope (carbon-14 isotope) increases in the environment. On earth, the excess of C-14 passes through water bodies, air, and living organisms including both plants and animals. While filtering through a tree, the C-14 isotope from a solar flare leaves its marks on tree rings, and therefore the rings act as a record of the event.
According to the researchers, apart from indicating the age of a tree, the rings also contain yearly records of solar radiation. So in order to predict the next Miyake event, they developed a model that could reveal information related to the carbon cycle occurring over a period of 10,000 years. Plus, they also created software to decode the records found on tree rings.
However, this is not the first research work that makes use of tree rings to study the terrestrial carbon cycle and solar flares. Scientists have been studying the concentration of the C-14 isotope in tree rings for a long time. For instance, in 2014, a team of researchers from the University of Arizona revealed that various factors associated with carbon cycles on earth can be understood by studying tree rings.
Last year, another research paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letter highlighted a new past solar radiation event by examining rings in trees located in Finland, California, and Switzerland. There are more such studies dating back to the 1990s but what makes the current research work special is that it tells us about when the next Miyake event is likely to take place.
We might be very close to experiencing a Miyake Event
Based on their findings, Dr. Pope and his colleagues suggest that a Miyake Event might take place within the next decade. However, this is just a possibility and more precisely, there is only a one percent chance of such a solar storm hitting us in the next 15-20 years. Unlike previous studies that consider a Miyake as one large solar flare, the current study proposes that it does not occur in the form of a single explosion.
A Miyake Event is rather a cosmic outburst that may continue for months and even years. “We’ve shown they’re not correlated with sunspot activity, and some actually last one or two years. Rather than a single instantaneous explosion or flare, what we may be looking at is a kind of astrophysical ‘storm’ or outburst,” said first author Qingyuan Zhang.
The current findings are quite alarming and researchers are still not sure how much harm a Miyake Event could cause to people on Earth. This is why they believe that further research is also required to understand the possibility of future Miyake Events in more depth.
The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical Physical and Engineering Sciences.
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