'Cosmic blast' could explain radiation spike in Middle Ages

Jan 21, 2013

Scientists believe an 8th Century collision in the Milky Way could explain radioactive carbon in ancient trees

A HUGE cosmic blast in deep space could explain a mystery spike in radiation during the Middle Ages, scientists have said.

According to a study published in January's Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and reported today by the BBC, an explosion occurred when two black holes or neutron stars collided in the Milky Way, sending shockwaves through the galaxy, in either in 774 or 775 AD.

The collision would explain why scientists found unusually high levels of radioactive carbon in ancient cedar trees in Japan last year, as reported in the scientific journal Nature, and a spike in levels of radioactive isotopes in Antarctica.

Previously it was believed a large solar flare or supernova explosion could have caused the radiation, which would have then been absorbed by the atmosphere.

But Professor Ralph Neuhauser, who led the research team at the University of Jena in Germany, now puts it down to a "very, very explosive and energetic" cosmic bang.

According to his research, the explosion from the black holes or neutron stars colliding would have been between 3,000-12,000 light years away, but within our galaxy, the Milky Way.

If we were to see a similar event today it could knock out satellites in orbit around the earth. If the explosion were to occur just a few hundred light years closer, it could destroy the ozone layer, killing us all.

Our ancestors may not have even noticed the blast, despite it being the most powerful in the known universe, because it happened 3,000 to 12,000 light years away and would not have been visible from earth.

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