Why is this important? Because the Earth has been hit by the surge of cosmic rays from a quasar (or supernova) at least 5 times in our historical past, and once in recent history during the year 774/775 AD (or CE). This event resulted in a stream of charged particles made up of cosmic rays and gamma radiation causing a “global” damage to Earth’s atmosphere.
A new discovery by astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found that Markarian 231 (Mrk 231), the nearest galaxy to Earth is powered by two central black holes furiously whirling about each other producing the inevitable result of a ‘gamma ray burst’.
Scientists looked at Hubble archival observations of ultraviolet radiation emitted from the center of Mrk 231 to discover what they describe as “extreme and surprising properties.” say Xinyu Dai of the University of Oklahoma.
Gamma ray bursts are the most powerful explosions known in the universe. They can discharge as much energy as our Sun during its entire 10 billion year lifetime in anywhere from millisecond to a minute or more.
In March 2013, a similar finding was disclosed in the constellation Sagittarius with a forming gamma ray burst known as WR 104 which is even closer to Earth. What makes this a most distressing find, is the view of a nearly perfect spiral as viewed from Earth – “It could only appear like that if we are looking nearly exactly down on the axis of the binary system,” says Peter Tuthill, an astronomer at the University of Sydney.
“This is the first object that we know of that might release a gamma ray burst at us,” said astrophysicist Adrian Melott at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, who did not participate in this study. “And it’s close enough to do some damage.”
This binary system is about 8,000 light years away, roughly a quarter of the way to the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. While this might seem far away, research suggests a gamma ray burst with its funnel in-line with Earth would be devastating with unknown consequences.
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