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Tree rings hold clues on impact of supernovas

Date: 01 December 2020 Tags: Space

Issue

Massive supernova explosions happening thousands of light-years from Earth may have left traces in our planet's biology and geology.

 

Details

  • A very nearby supernova could be capable of wiping human civilization off the face of the Earth by emitting dangerous radiations.

  • To study the possible impacts, researchers searched through the planet's tree ring records for the fingerprints of these distant, cosmic explosions.

  • The findings suggest that relatively close supernovas could theoretically have triggered at least four disruptions to Earth's climate over the last 40,000 years.

  • Scientists have discovered that concentration of Carbon-14 isotope inside tree rings spikes suddenly and for no apparent earthly reason. 

  • They have hypothesized that these several-year-long spikes could be due to solar flares or huge ejections of energy from the surface of the sun.

  • While these isotopes aren't dangerous on their own, a spike in their levels could indicate that energy from a distant supernova has travelled hundreds to thousands of light-years to our planet.

 

Supernova

  • A supernova is the name given to the cataclysmic explosion of a massive star at the end of its life. It can emit more energy in a few seconds than our sun will radiate in its lifetime of billions of years.

  • The original object, called the progenitor, either collapses to a neutron star or black hole, or is completely destroyed. 

 

Carbon-14

  • Carbon-14 (14C), or radiocarbon, is a radioactive isotope of carbon with an atomic nucleus containing 6 protons and 8 neutrons. Its presence in organic materials is the basis of the radiocarbon dating method.

  • Radiocarbon dating is a radiometric dating method that uses (14C) to determine the age of carbonaceous materials up to about 60,000 years old.

  • One of the frequent uses of the technique is to date organic remains from archaeological sites.

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