Can Gamma Ray Bursts affect Earth?

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Offline thedoc

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Can Gamma Ray Bursts affect Earth?
« on: 29/04/2012 12:10:02 »
Manogrie Golden  asked the Naked Scientists:

How would we know if a gamma ray burst, of the size (or bigger) that has caused a mass extinction in the past, is coming towards the Earth, and even if we do know it, would we be able to do anything at all about it?


Johannesburg, South Africa

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 29/04/2012 12:10:02 by _system »


Offline CliffordK

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Re: Can Gamma Ray Bursts affect Earth?
« Reply #1 on: 30/04/2012 01:32:52 »
Notes indicate that most gamma ray bursts endure for less than a few minutes.

You would be reasonably well protected from the initial burst if you were on the opposite side of the Earth, or in a submarine a couple of miles below the ocean surface.  Could a heavy lead lined storm cellar or bomb shelter help?  However, the notes also indicate that it could cause massive atmospheric damage, so the secondary impacts of the earth may not be be trivial.

It is likely that many electronic systems would also be literally fried.

Since gamma is high energy light, early detection would be difficult as once released, it would travel to Earth at the same speed that it would be detectable.  Two options then remain, first would be to detect the conditions preceding a burst.  Second, like an earthquake with forequakes, there may be fore-bursts.  However, like an earthquake, it is likely that any forewarning would be ambiguous, and for example, there would be many false positives, and if one chose to flee to the opposite side of the earth, then one would need adequate forewarning to travel, and to have the end timing within 12 hours to know when and where to go.

At this point, the best thing would be to hope that one ends up on the protected side of the Earth (about a 50/50 chance), and perhaps consider alternatives to 100% dependence on electronics.