Gamma-Ray Bursts are More Common on Earth Than We Thought

By Jamie Condliffe on at

Gamma ray bursts—powerful burst of electromagnetic radiation – are more common on Earth than previously realised. Scientists have discovered that they're generated as many as 1,100 times a day in the storms that occur on the surface of our planet.

The finding comes from new observations made by NASA's Fermi satellite. It's been measuring gamma-ray radiation emanating up and out from the Earth's atmosphere, while instrumentation on the surface of our planet allowed scientists to triangulate the results with known storms and lightning strikes.

The results, presented at the American Geophysical Union's autumn meeting, reveal that virtually all storms produce the burst at some scale. In fact, typically, our planet experiences around 1,100 of the bursts on a given day.

That's a dramatic change in thinking compared to the early 1990s, when scientists believed that gamma ray bursts only occurred in space. The same decade we worked out that they did occur in storms too, though it was still thought that such events were rare.

Fortunately, there's no suggestion that these gamma-ray burst are particularly dangerous. In most small storms, the levels of radiation are low. And at any rate, pilots — probably the most at-risk of all us — tend to avoid storms anyway. [BBC]

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