Gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful explosions known in the Universe. A GRB within our galaxy could have catastrophic consequences for the Earth. Extrapolations from the global rate suggest an average interval of a few hundred million years for events in which the Earth is irradiated from an event on our side of the Galaxy. The atmosphere would become heavily ionized, resulting in major destruction of the ozone layer, darkened skies and nitric acid rain. There is a strong candidate for a GRB based mass extinction in the late Ordovician, 440 million years ago.
The Sun itself may emit flares and bursts of protons which are sufficient to affect the Earth. An event in 1859 caused fires in telegraph offices, and northern lights seen in the Caribbean. Such an event today would cause widespread power disruption and about $2 trillion in damage to
the world economy. We don’t know how bad they can get, but there are indications of events much worse on some stars similar to the Sun’s type.
Adrian Lewis Melott
(born 7 January 1947) is an American physicist. He is one of the pioneers of using large-scale computing to investigate the formation of large-scale structure in a Universe dominated by dark matter. He later turned his attention to an area he calls “astrobiophysics”, examining a variety of ways that external events in our galaxy may have influenced the course of life on Earth, including analysis of gamma-ray burst
1994-Present: Professor, Physics & Astronomy, University of Kansas
[masked]: Associate Professor, Physics & Astronomy, University of Kansas
[masked]: Assistant Professor, Physics & Astronomy, University of Kansas
[masked]: Enrico Fermi Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Chicago
1984: Visiting Researcher, Institute of Theoretical Physics, University of California at Santa Barbara
1983: IAU Visiting Astronomer, Oxford University
IREX Fellow, Moscow State University
1982: Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Pittsburgh
Cole Morgan [address removed][masked]