Super-bright gamma-ray flare changed the electric field in the Earth's ionosphere: what scientists recorded

Dmytro IvancheskulNews
One of the most powerful cosmic explosions occurred at a distance of 2.4 billion light years. Source: Getty/collage by OBOZ.UA

One of the most powerful cosmic explosions that occurred at a distance of 2.4 billion light-years temporarily changed the electric field in the Earth's ionosphere. This layer of our atmosphere helps protect life on Earth from dangerous ultraviolet and other radiation from space.

This is stated in the study, the results of which were published in the journal Nature Communications. The research sheds light on how the protective layers of our planet's plasma interact with radiation from distant events in space.

A distant gamma-ray burst was recorded by scientists in October 2022. It was the most powerful one scientists have ever seen.

Astronomer Mirko Pierzanti from the University of L'Aquila (Italy) and his colleagues used radio transmitters and satellites to measure what happened when the gamma rays hit the upper layers of the Earth's ionosphere. It turned out that the high-energy radiation caused a larger than normal amount of gas to ionize, which resulted in a different electrical charge and changed the electric field of the entire upper ionosphere.

The Earth's ionosphere consists of several layers of electrically charged gas, called plasma, floating at different heights in the upper atmosphere. These layers help block harmful ultraviolet and other radiation, making the planet habitable. Plasma also serves as a kind of reflector for radio signals, allowing radio operators to reach distant receivers.

According to Inverse, it was scientists who monitor how the ionosphere reflects radio waves who noticed that in October 2022, during the gamma-ray burst, the electric field of the upper ionosphere was seriously disturbed.

The research by Piersanti and his colleagues gives scientists a better understanding of how our planet's shield reacts not only to flares of plasma and energy from the Sun, but also to higher-energy radiation from super-powerful events far away in space. Studying the ionosphere may be another way for astronomers to detect and study gamma-ray bursts in the future.

Gamma-ray bursts are the most energetic explosions in the Universe. They are of two types and can last only a few seconds or several minutes.

The source of short bursts, according to scientists, is the collision of neutron stars - superdense cores of dead stars with a strong magnetic field. Longer ones are formed when massive stars collapse, forming black holes.

Fortunately, all the gamma-ray bursts that humanity has recorded so far have occurred far outside our galaxy. If a gamma-ray burst were to occur in the Milky Way, it could destroy all life on Earth. But only if its rays were directed in our direction. Fortunately, the probability of such an event is extremely low. According to NASA, such a flare, which scientists saw in October 22, can happen no more than once every ten thousand years.

In general, astronomers record gamma-ray bursts from different parts of the Universe almost every day, but only a few of them have had a significant impact on the Earth's ionosphere.

Earlier, OBOZ.UA told about whether people will be able to survive the collision of the Milky Way with the Andromeda Galaxy.

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