Scientists from the University of Queensland have discovered that the giant radiation storms that hit Earth about once every thousand years are of a mysterious nature that is not related to solar activity. The study is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences.
The history of the most powerful bursts of radiation on Earth, called the Miyake events, can be traced by a sudden increase in the level of radiocarbon (carbon-14) in the growth rings of ancient trees. This allows you to determine the amount of radiation in the atmosphere in the recent history of the planet. The authors counted six Miyake events, the most powerful of which occurred in 774 AD.
The leading theory is that Miyake events are solar flares. But by comparing them to the solar cycle, the authors found that the Miyake events did not coincide with peak solar activity. In addition, solar flares are short, while Miyake events last one to two years.
The authors believe that the Miyake events could have been caused by a series of unknown and unpredictable catastrophic cosmic events, such as supernova explosions. Their enigmatic nature warrants further study, given the harm they can cause.
The largest solar storm ever recorded is the 1859 Carrington Event. Solar particles then set fire to telegraph systems around the world and caused auroras brighter than the light of the moon. They could be seen even as far south as the Caribbean. But the Carrington event was 80 times less powerful than the Miyake event of 774 AD. If the latter happened today, our technology would be destroyed, including satellites, internet cables, power lines and transformers.