A cryptic chemical signature of unknown origin, hidden for centuries within the trunks of Earth’s trees, has just become more obscure.
In the last decade, scientists have discovered traces of the six most intense radiation eruptions on Earth, known as the Miyake event, spread over the last 9,300 years. The most popular explanation is that these mysterious signatures were left by large solar storms, leading some scientists to warn that the next Miyake event could disable the world’s electrical grid. New research published in October Journal of the Royal Society of Jesussuggests that there is more than just solar flares behind the enigmatic radiation.
The discovery highlights the need for further research into these new breakthroughs, which may potentially harm our society in the future, says scientist Gianluca Quarta of the University of Salentina in Lecce, Italy, who was not involved in the study. “It’s not appropriate for what we know at the time.”
Miyake’s achievements were first discovered in trees. As trees grow, trunks are made up of layers, or rings, that lock in chemical signatures from their surroundings. By examining the composition of individual tree rings, researchers can uncover clues about environmental conditions going back thousands of years (SN: 6/1/20).
In 2012, scientist Fusa Miyake of Nagoya University in Japan was studying the rings of a Japanese cedar tree when he found a sharp spike in radiocarbon – a variant of carbon that can form when cosmic radiation hits the Earth’s atmosphere – in the rings dating to about AD 774. Since then, five other similar breaks, Now called the Miyake phenomenon, they have been detected in circles around the world and in polar ice cores.
Due to the global phenomenon of nails, many scientists argue that the event has an extraterrestrial origin. The most popular explanation is that particularly large solar storms, or flares, blow up the Earth with large amounts of radiation.SN: 2/26/21).
The most powerful solar storm in recorded history was the 1859 Carrington event, which broke telegraph lines and sparked a fire in the Pittsburgh circuit. The radiation levels associated with the Miyake event are more than 80 times those associated with the Carrington event, says scientist Benjamin Pope of the University of Queensland in St. Lucia, Australia. “The potential dangers of global technology.”
But the story was only pierced by the storm. Radiation levels from event 774 would have been too high to have come from a single solar flare, some researchers have suggested. And ice cores, which can also store chemical traces of solar flares, have not yet emitted any evidence of solar activity for any Miyake event.
Thus, Pope and colleagues put their main hypothesis to the test. All publicly available analyzed tree-ring data on the six Miyake events, using computer simulations of the Earth’s carbon cycle. This allowed the team to calculate the duration, timing and extent of both events.
If Miyake’s events are linked to solar activity, they could coincide with solar flares, which occur about every 11 years when solar flares become more frequent. The researchers, however, found no relationship between Miyake’s events and any solar cycle. What’s more, the researchers found that two events appeared over the course of the year – unexpected solar storms that usually last for hours or days.
And if flowers cause solar events, trees closer to the poles, where the Earth’s magnetic field is weaker, should contain higher levels of Miyake event radiation. However, the researchers did not find such a trend.
The findings do not disprove the solar hypothesis, Pope said. He says that insufficient data on the wood ring could obscure the connection between Miyake’s solar activity and his results. New Antarctic ice-core data – analyzed by researchers at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization and expected to be released next year – may provide more answers.
Sunflowers can still be after the event, Quarta agrees. Nuances in the Earth’s carbon cycle not captured by the simulations could influence the findings. For example, trees metabolize radiocarbon at different rates depending on their species or latitude, he says.
Although the mystery remains unsolved, Papa is not sleeping on any other Miyake event. There is about a 1 percent chance of an accident in the next decade, he said. “I’m more concerned about getting hit by my bus walking to work.”
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