(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists have found that about once every thousand years, a sharp release of carbon-14 occurs in the atmosphere, creating potentially devastating radiation storms.
Astronomers have several hypotheses about what could have caused this phenomenon. However, a detailed study of these events makes their cause even more mysterious.
High-energy particles collide with nitrogen atoms in the upper atmosphere to produce radioactive carbon-14, the longest-lived radioactive carbon isotope that enters the planetary carbon cycle and is taken up by plants.
This means that the rings of ancient trees will help scientists figure out what caused the abundance of carbon-14 in the distant past.
Ten years ago, scientists found explanations for small changes in carbon-14 over the past thousand years, but a huge spike in 774 AD immediately puzzled them.
A new study by scientists from different fields has also hit a dead end.
In 2012, a team led by physicist Fusa Miyake of Nagoya University discovered a carbon-14 spike in 774 in Japanese tree rings. The phenomenon has since been confirmed to be global and named after Miyake.
Global events of a similar magnitude were confirmed in 993 AD, as well as in 660, 5259, 5410 and 7176 BC. Several smaller events have also been identified.
Dr Benjamin Pope of the University of Queensland called the new study the most comprehensive study of the Miyake events ever done. However, he admits that this did not solve the mystery, but only exacerbated it.
The first hypothesis about the Miyake events was that these phenomena were caused by powerful solar flares.
If this were to happen today, most of our satellites, as well as internet cables and power lines, would be destroyed, throwing society into chaos.
It turns out that if the hypothesis is correct, then the events of Miyake will soon coincide with the peaks of the solar cycle. However, scientists have not been able to find any evidence for this.
They believe that solar activity amplifies the solar wind and helps protect the Earth from cosmic rays. At the same time, scientists do not deny the possibility of such a scenario.
According to another version, the events in Miyake may be caused by supernova explosions or other cosmic events.
However, no event in Miyake has coincided with any of the known supernovae in the last millennium, which obviously rejects this hypothesis.
Although the authors were unable to explain these events, they did learn something very important. At least one Miyake event lasted over a year, while others likely lasted a long time.
“Instead of a one-time explosion or flash, we can observe a kind of astrophysical” storm. It’s hard to say when the next such storm will occur,” said Qinyuan Zhang, one of the authors of the study.
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