Nonfiction writing

Gamma Rays Destroy Things

Gamma Rays Destroy Things

Gamma rays destroy things. Their ultra high energy levels allow them to penetrate anything and cause harm inside the area. They annihilate the Earth’s atmosphere. It happened in the past. Four hundred fifty million years ago. Forty percent of the ozone disappeared within a year. The thing is, it will happen again…
Soon.
Gamma ray bursts (GRB’s) are the most destructive and explosive and energetic force of nature. Their gamma rays destroy virtually everything in their path by either incinerating it or by destroying its atmosphere and knocking things out of gravitational orbits. They can be found in the universe all over the place. One may have hit Earth 450 mya. This is the question I am answering: when will the next one occur and what will its effects be?
There are two types of gamma ray bursts. A long duration (2-100+ seconds) and a short duration (.03-2 seconds). The two have very different origins and very different lives. Long GRBs are explosive and only need one object, where as a short GRBs needs two objects.
The long duration gamma ray burst occurs when a super-massive star (collapsar), upwards of 20 times the mass of our sun, nears the end of its life. The star’s core spins rapidly as it begins to turn to a black hole. Matter gets flung around as the nucleus of the star goes through the final stages before collapsing to a singularity. The matter crashes into other matter at nearly the speed of light, which creates gamma rays the gamma rays escape through the poles of the star. All of the star’s matter fuels the burst until the core has nearly became a black hole. At this point, the star does not supernova, it hypernovas and all that remains is a black hole.
Short gamma ray bursts occur much differently. It begins with a binary neutron star system, two burned out stars that had gone supernova in the past and the remaining core has so much gravity that protons and electrons can’t exist. These two stars fall into each other’s gravitational wells and start coming closer together. Ten seconds later, the two stars are about to merge in a spectacular display of gamma rays and will cause a gamma ray burst.
The Milky Way has few super-massive stars, but many burned out neutron stars. In a galaxy like our own, it is estimated that a GRB will happen once every million years. One close enough to have a biological impact is once every 350-500 million years. The last one that hit Earth was 450 million years ago.
Right in the middle of the time zone for a gamma ray burst.
If a GRB were to hit Earth now, this would be the best-case scenario.
The burst would originate some 6000 light years away. When it strikes Earth 6000 years later, there will be a greenish new sun in the sky; you would be blinded. Forty percent of the ozone is destroyed, letting the ultraviolet radiation spike by 80%. All electrical systems would have had their circuit boards blow up from power surges. The gamma rays will be re-emitted in visible light, a black and gray cloud covering the Earth. At night, the sky will have green auroras, a once welcome sight. The cloud will reflect heat away from Earth, dropping the temperature by 10%: the same drop as the one that started the ice age.  The world’s food supply will fail from the drop in temperature.
The number of people able to survive this event will be 5-10% at best.
If it were to happen at worst case will be that the burst is so close to Earth (100 or less light years) and will cook the Earth and melt the exterior. No life could survive this scenario.
Ninety-nine point nine nine percent of all species that ever lived on Earth are now extinct. Humans are next on the mass extinction list.
Is the fatal blow a gamma ray burst…
Or something we don’t know about.

By Michael P.   6B


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