People used to think that solar flares were responsible for the spikes in Earth’s radiation levels. But a new study shows that these spikes might not be caused by solar flares meaning that it could be something much more powerful that is still unknown to us.
“There’s a kind of extreme astrophysical phenomenon that we don’t understand and it actually could be a threat to us,” Benjamin Pope, coauthor of the study and astrophysicist at the University of Queensland, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The study published in the proceedings of the Royal Society examined tree rings for spikes of carbon 14, a radioactive isotope of carbon whose increased presence represents spikes in radiation levels on Earth. The radiation upticks, in turn, are caused by mysterious astrophysical events called “Miyake events,” so named after the Japanese scientist that discovered them.
“There are six known [Miyake] events spanning nearly 10,000 years,” said astrophysicist Benjamin Pope of the University of Queensland. The most recent spikes occurred in 774 AD and 993 AD during the early Medieval period. While in the modern day a radiation event of this scale wouldn’t directly harm us, it could knock out everything we rely on in our modern world — not just for days, but months or longer.
So what ungodly force could have been responsible for these Miyake events? Pope thinks it could be an unholy barrage of solar flares bursting in quick succession. “Not just one solar flare, but recurrent solar flares going off again and again,” he explained. As for the odds of experiencing such an event anytime soon, Pope thinks they’re slim — but maybe not that slim. “Based on available data, there’s roughly a one percent chance of seeing another one within the next decade,” Pope said in a press release.