Recent solar flare seen bombarding Earth with gamma rays

From the “Oh noes it’s Radiation” department, Dr. Leif Svalgaard points out we all got a gamma ray bath on that recent big solar flare. I wonder how many Banana Equivalent Doses we all got?

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

Solar Flare in the Gamma-ray Sky
Credit: NASA, DOE, International Fermi LAT Collaboration Explanation: What shines in the gamma-ray sky? The answer is usually the most exotic and energetic of astrophysical environments, like active galaxies powered by supermassive black holes, or incredibly dense pulsars, the spinning remnants of exploded stars. But on March 7, a powerful solar flare, one of a series of recent solar eruptions, dominated the gamma-ray sky at energies up to 1 billion times the energy of visible light photons. These two panels illustrate the intensity of that solar flare in all-sky images recorded by the orbiting Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. On March 6, as on most days, the Sun was almost invisible to Fermi’s imaging detectors. But during the energetic X-class flare, it became nearly 100 times brighter than even the Vela Pulsar at gamma-ray energies. Now faded in Fermi’s view, the Sun will likely shine again in the gamma-ray sky as the solar activity cycle approaches its maximum.

Source: Astronomy picture of the day

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44 Responses to Recent solar flare seen bombarding Earth with gamma rays

  1. Latitude says:

    AT&T said they had a lot of trouble with the internet that same time…….

  2. Pull My Finger says:

    Cool. It it safe to assume our infrastructure is safe from all but the most catastrophic of situations?

    I love watching shows like “The Universe” but feel they get a little over dramatic with some of their radiation scare stories with Gamma Ray Pulses, Magnetars, even relatively close super nova not just frying ever electrical transfomer on earth, but stripping away the atmosphere and all of creation being asphyxiated in 30 seconds time. How big was this burst from the sun? Was it one of the largest we’ve recorded?

  3. Pull My Finger says:

    Looks like some other little red dot popped up in the top middle section. Wonder what that was?

  4. Pull My Finger says:

    Actually were hit my a magnetar in 2005.

    http://www.space.com/806-brightest-galactic-flash-detected-hits-earth.html

    I know a couple scientists have noted that the mass die offs of Earth have roughly coincided with our little spur of the galaxy moving through heavy heavy traffic areas where the chances of getting fried with a GRB increase dramatically.

  5. Pull My Finger says:

    Or I should add, getting hit with comets and meteors.

  6. Pull My Finger says:

    And evidently there is a 1% chance of the earth being smashed by Mercury getting pulled out of its orbit by Jupiter. At least we probably see that one coming a LONG way off. :-)

  7. Jenn Oates says:

    Well, I’m toast, then. My most recent date with radioiodine put me close to my lifetime limit, so I’m sure this has put me over the edge and I’m gonna die.

    Hopefully it will take several more decades.

  8. Duster says:

    As concerns radiation safety see:

    http://lowdose.energy.gov/

    It seems that contrary to the expectations from the “radiation is scary” community, low doses of radiation – slightly above background is the usual statement – appear to be good for you. The low dose appears to stimulate repair mechanisms in the cell protecting it from genetic damage. For decades the assumption was that there was a linear decline in health effects with reduced exposure. This is true to a point. Below that, apparently the correlation between health and radiation exposure may reverse. One simple example is the relation between ultraviolet (an ionizing radiation) exposure and Vitamin D synthesis. Too little is actually very bad for your health and even worse for developing children, who, without sufficient exposure, will not synthesize adequate Vitamin D for skeletal development among other problems. The last few years have seen an increase in rickets in children. I can’t find the link anymore, but one researcher suggested that the increased use of sunscreen triggered by the ozone-hole alarm might be the cause. Search terms including low dose radiation and hormesis may be interesting.

  9. BarryW says:

    Should dosage be measured in Chiquitas?

  10. Brian H says:

    Jenn;
    Google “hormesis” and have hope. You may have added some years!

  11. vukcevic says:

    Another hit by approaching solar storm

  12. Scott Covert says:

    Duster says:
    March 15, 2012 at 10:56 am
    As concerns radiation safety see:

    http://lowdose.energy.gov/

    It seems that contrary to the expectations from the “radiation is scary” community, low doses of radiation – slightly above background is the usual statement ……….

    Video games have reduced my children to jellyfish like creatures. Nintenditis, I have to use compressed air to inflate their bodies in order to keep them from sliding out of chairs.
    Maybe it’s not just sunscreen?

  13. pwl says:

    Gamma Ray Burst. Hmmm…. we are all the Hulk now!

  14. Steve from Rockwood says:

    Do any of these gamma rays make it to the Earth’s surface?

  15. Pull My Finger says:

    God, Ipod Touch syndrome makes Nintendoitis look like the common cold. My son had a passing interest in video games, mostly Guitar Hero, maybe an hour here and there. I think his Ipod Touch is permanently attached to his hand. Thank god the thing needs recharged pretty regularly or I’d never see him.

  16. CAS says:

    So can we measure cloud cover differences between the days before during and after the event?

  17. Interstellar Bill says:

    The highest-energy gamma rays are similar to galactic cosmic rays in being able to cause low-altitude ionization, for extra condensation nuclei.
    Has world-wide cloudiness increased in response to this gamma barrage?

  18. Gary Plyler says:

    OK, it was 100 times brighter than Vela for a few hours. We are exposed to the gamma radiation from Vela for about 12 hours a day, 365 days a year, every year. And everyting else in the sky added up is far stronger than Vela alone.

    Perspective people.

  19. Ray says:

    pwl says:
    March 15, 2012 at 11:31 am

    We certainly don’t need more greenies around.

  20. albertkallal says:

    I suspect the real relevance here is that of a sustained increase in solar wind. Such an increase would suggest based on the cosmic radiation theory of cloud formation this could have the potential to reduce formation of clouds and thus cause global warming.

    It not clear if this radiation was just a burst (no big deal), or a sustained change in solar wind.

    The only news and event worthy of consideration here would be any sustained changed in solar radiation which in turn would be a sustained change in cloud formation which in turn would suggest something that can contribute to resumption in warming trends.

    This cosmic radiation link is explained here:

  21. Size of flare was, I think I heard, ‘the biggest since 2005′. So no big deal really… a lot also depends on the magnetic polarity of the flare.

  22. adolfogiurfa says:

    That is why we do not last longer than approximately One Gleissberg cycle… :-)
    Dust we are..

  23. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:

    Gamma rays, x-rays, no real difference except notational, gamma radiation comes from atomic nuclei while x-radiation comes from excited shell electrons. There are portable “x-ray” devices that use gamma from radioactive isotopes.

    If we had known about this, someone could have done some experiments during the daytime with covered photographic film, seen if the radiation was strong enough to leave some images.

    But then, photographic film is very hard to come by now that virtually all cameras are digital. Drat, the exploration of science has been thwarted by the advancement of technology!

  24. I have a fairly sensitive geiger counter in the attic and I’ve noticed a 5% increase in radiation since 9th March. I wonder if that is related, or was the peak earlier and we should be back to normal now?

    The snow on the roof melted in the past week, which should give an increase in detected radiation, but not by that much. It puzzled me this morning, and then I read this post.

  25. Kelvin Vaughan says:

    Pull My Finger says:

    March 15, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Looks like some other little red dot popped up in the top middle section. Wonder what that was?

    That is the suns doppleganger on the opposite side of the galaxy.

  26. Kelvin Vaughan says:

    Duster says:

    March 15, 2012 at 10:56 am

    For decades the assumption was that there was a linear decline in health effects with reduced exposure. This is true to a point. Below that, apparently the correlation between health and radiation exposure may reverse.

    Thats why it is not good to project a straight line graph and assume it’s correct. The same thing was done with resistance. Then they discovered zero resistance occured before absolute zero.

  27. Tom_R says:

    Steve from Rockwood says:
    March 15, 2012 at 11:31 am
    Do any of these gamma rays make it to the Earth’s surface?

    My understanding is that they don’t. However, some of the particles created when the gamma rays interact with the atmosphere do make it to the surface. But see Gary Plyler’s 12:02 PM comment. The effect is insignificant (and the article never claimed it was).

  28. Brian Adams says:

    What is the effect of gamma rays on man-in-the-moon marigolds?

  29. The ones you really have to watch out for are the delta-rays. They might be dumb, but they’re big & strong.

  30. Bruce of Newcastle says:

    Could well even be beneficial. The dose-response to radiation is another area where green-left politics tends to bias the science. The hormensis model suggests there is a beneficial effect of low dose radiation (although this may vary as to the type of radiation). But the green-left, who have an anti-nuclear political position, tend to force the linear no threshold model on everyone. Precautionary principle and all that don’tcha know?

    I have not done enough research to personally decide which model is correct, but I instinctively distrust a model which has political baggage attached. Which may be an erroneous conclusion to make, but hey, I’m human.

  31. Curiousgeorge says:

    Well, it seems the rays have had an effect on the wasps around here. They’re bigger and meaner than usual. And out earlier.

  32. John Day says:

    As all of you budding atmospheric experts should know, the Earth’s atmosphere is opaque to electromagnetic radiation, including gamma rays. With two notable exceptions of course: RF (“radio waves”) and visible-IR (“optical light”).

    So gamma was completely absorbed. None of it reached the ground.

    http://amazing-space.stsci.edu/resources/explorations/groundup/lesson/basics/g17b/

    :-|

  33. _Jim says:

    Latitude says on March 15, 2012 at 10:05 am:

    AT&T said they had a lot of trouble with the internet that same time…….

    Cite? … not that I nor anyone else out here might think that may just be hearsay …

    .

  34. Hoser says:

    Although gamma ray photons can contain much more energy than x-rays, or UV, they are low LET meaning they don’t deposit all of the energy in one spot. Most of the energy contained in a gamma ray will be deposited outside your body. If a gamma ray passes through you, it will likely knock loose some electrons, but sporadically.These delta rays can do some damage, but they won’t go far. Typically, they activate water forming radicals, enhanced by oxygen. If the radicals survive long enough to find DNA, some chemical modifications may occur on DNA bases, potentially changing their affinity for the correct type of base to pair with on the opposite strand. If the cell cycle is not halted and the damged bases replaced, DNA replication may proceed with misincorporations leading to mutations in daughter cells.

    Direct damage to DNA, causing only a single-strand break, is not particularly serious. DNA repair enzymes are capable of correcting such problems. UV light is absorbed near the surface of the body, and may form covalent pyrimidine base dimers. These dimers have to be excised and replaced. Most of us survive sunburn. X-rays and gamma-rays penetrate throughout the body, but unless the dose rate is high, odds are the damage is repaired with little negative consequence.

    It gets more interesting if you are a smoker. Tobacco is grown, picked, and dried in humid locations. Mold growing on the drying leaves can produce aflatoxin, capable of inducing specfic mutations in p53, a tumor-suppressor gene. Certain mutations in p53 prevent a cell from halting the cell cycle, consequently there may be insufficient time to repair DNA damage. p53 mutations may also prevent the cell from entering programmed cell-death (apoptosis) that normally rids the body of cells damaged too severely. When your DNA repair defenses are down, it is more likely you will get cancer. However, let’s put this risk in perspective. For the population as a whole, cancer risk goes up with fourth power of age.

  35. Mike Wryley says:

    Hoser,

    Has anyone figured out how these DNA repair mechanisms maintain sequence integrity ? The process would seem to have similarities to forward error correction (FEC) techniques used in information transmission systems that maintain data integrity in noisy channels, and allow communication in situations that would otherwise result in garbage. Since DNA is essentially a physical information system, the fact that a cell can recover from these “information” errors is truly amazing.

  36. Lightrain says:

    So, shouldn’t all those cosmic rays have caused huge cloud buildups?

  37. Agile Aspect says:

    Steve from Rockwood says:
    March 15, 2012 at 11:31 am

    Do any of these gamma rays make it to the Earth’s surface?
    ;—————————————————————————-

    No, typically they don’t reach the surface.

    Gamma rays are electromagnetic radiation (like radio waves) but with extremely short wavelength and extremely high energy – and typically scatter off of the electrons in the atmosphere (also known as Compton scattering.)

    On average they don’t make it past 20 km from the surface (and maybe half of that at the poles.)

    It wasn’t until the 1960s or 1970s after we put up satellites that we discovered gamma rays coming from space.

  38. Agile Aspect says:

    Interstellar Bill says:
    March 15, 2012 at 11:56 am

    The highest-energy gamma rays are similar to galactic cosmic rays in being able to cause low-altitude ionization, for extra condensation nuclei.
    Has world-wide cloudiness increased in response to this gamma barrage?
    ;———————————————————————————–

    Cosmic rays are primary protons and they collide with the molecules in the atmosphere creating a shower of particles.

    Some particles from the shower continue on and eventually decay into muons (a fat electron.)

    It’s the muons which help create low level clouds by decaying into a electron (and 2 neutrinos) around 3 km above the ocean.

    Electrons from the original shower of particles are to light and would be gobbled up by protons and other charges high up in the atmosphere and would never make it down to 3 km where they are needed.

  39. EO Peter says:

    Me think that perfection is not the realm of biological system. They are massively tolerant to imperfection & contains enormous amount of redundancy. Unfortunate Russians were able to work for small amount of time on roof of Chernobyl, while even relatively robust remotely operated robots were completely kaput!

    Damage from radiation & etc. inject noise into the machine and its program (DNA). Me think also that nature work by “brute force design”, meaning all possible combinations of everything possible is done & evaluated by reality if it give advantage, creating the process of evolution.

    That “noise” injected by nature like these gamma flash, even if this one was probably insignificant, constitute the random generator needed. The harsh reality of nature’s law is like a filter that attenuate less optimal organisms but amplify any new mutations increasing survivability.

    Its a process similar to Monte Carlo simulations… Consider the number of “DNA processors” on Earth (including every bacteria everywhere) and consider the immense time span since life apparition. This give a lot of computing power and a lot of possible combination done from the random generator! There is no possible similarity w/t what is available to “the team” in term of computing power, even for atmospheric simulation (you know chaotic sys. require also lots of CPU horse power). In fact it seem their beloved “model” is more like a lookup table, no reported effect like garbage in = garbage out, just the same CONSTANT hockey stick.

    Without that “noise” at the input, the system would compute nothing!

    These burst from the Sun are truly wind of change.

  40. ejmohr says:

    Leif, or anyone else who may know, I have a geiger counter at home and the background radiation varies as expected – usually from 12uS to 20uS. Occasionally it will take a slightly higher excursion – say from 0.12 uS to 0.28uS and then stay above 0.20uS, So, the first thing I do is check Space Weather.

    Almost always there is some sort of solar flare or if I am lucky and the skies are clear the aurora may be visible. Is this just wishful thinking on my part or does the background radiation rise a little bit once a CME hits the earth. I am at 51 degrees north, so although I know the atmosphere and the Van Allen belts are supposed to protect me, I can’t help but wonder if there are small perturbations that are measurable. We are talking mere uS so the effect if any is small but it seems like clockwork.

  41. ejmohr says:

    Oops – usual background should read 0.12uS to 0.20uS – should get some sleep :)

  42. Tom Davidson says:

    The carcinogenic DNA damage caused by the massive gamma-ray dose we all received will no doubt be attributed to something totally irrelevant such as cell phone use or bisphenol A.

  43. Keith Sketchley says:

    Kelvin Vaughan says: March 15, 2012 at 1:57 pm
    “Thats why it is not good to project a straight line graph and assume it’s correct.”

    What? You mean to say that climate alarmists are doing science wrong?
    /sarc

  44. Hoser says:

    Mike Wryley says:
    March 15, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    The information is redundant. There are two complementary DNA strands that contain the same information. If one strand is modified, there is often a chemical signature that can indicate to the repair enzymes which strand needs to be repaired. However, once damage is fixed in place, it is carried forward. We benefit from having two copies of each gene on the autosomes (non-sex chromosomes), and we can usually tolerate the loss of function in one copy. If mutations are fixed in germ-line chromosomes, they can be passed down to progeny, in which case these changes will be present in every cell of the body. It is estimated that we each carry perhaps 10 lethal mutations of genes, and survive because the other copy of these genes are functional. That’s one reason incest is a bad idea; getting two copies of the same damaged gene is more likely. In contrast, somatic mutations (not in the gametes) will persist in the body in all daughter cells, or until all cells containing that mutation die off.

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