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Impact of Gamma-Ray Burst on Earth’s Ionosphere


Recent research indicates that a gamma-ray burst (GRB) triggered by a supernova explosion in a galaxy nearly two billion light-years away has caused a significant disruption in the ionosphere of Earth.


GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Findings from the Research on Gamma-Ray Burst
  2. Gamma-Ray Bursts: A Brief Overview
  3. Ionosphere

Key Findings from the Research on Gamma-Ray Burst

Supernova Explosion and Gamma-Ray Release
  • Temporal Context:
    • Approximately two billion years ago, a supernova explosion occurred in a distant galaxy outside the Milky Way.
    • The explosion unleashed a substantial surge of gamma rays into the cosmos.
  • Journey to Earth:
    • Over the span of two billion years, the gamma rays traveled through space, reaching Earth in 2022.
Utilization of China Seismo-Electromagnetic Satellite (CSES)
  • Observational Tool:
    • The effects of the gamma-ray burst were examined using the China Seismo-Electromagnetic Satellite (CSES), also known as Zhangheng.
    • Launched in 2018, the satellite carried the Electric Field Detector (EFD) instrument, offering unprecedented resolution for analysis.
Impact on Earth’s Ionosphere
  • Ionosphere Disturbance:
    • The gamma-ray burst induced a remarkable disruption in Earth’s ionosphere.
    • The ionosphere, situated 30-600 miles above the planet’s surface, exhibited significant variations.
  • Detection Timeframe:
    • The disturbance was detected in October 2022.
Multi-Satellite Observations
  • Collaborative Monitoring:
    • The European Space Agency’s Integral and various satellites in proximity to Earth recorded the impact.
    • Observations revealed a strong variation in the electric field of the ionosphere.
Duration and Aftereffects
  • Gamma Ray Persistence:
    • The gamma rays lingered for approximately 13 minutes.
  • Extended Impact Period:
    • Despite the short duration of the gamma rays, the disturbance in the ionosphere persisted for several hours.
  • Global Effects:
    • The impact even triggered lightning detectors in India.
Record-Breaking Potency
  • Unprecedented Potency:
    • Scientists identified this gamma-ray burst as the most potent ever recorded.

Gamma-Ray Bursts: A Brief Overview

Definition and Characteristics
  • Nature of Gamma-Ray Bursts:
    • Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are brief explosions of gamma rays, representing the most energetic form of light.
  • Duration and Brightness:
    • Lasting from milliseconds to hours, GRBs shine hundreds of times brighter than typical supernovae.
    • They are about a million trillion times as bright as the Sun.
  • Observational Location:
    • Observed in distant galaxies, GRBs are the brightest electromagnetic events known in the universe.
Classification of Gamma-Ray Bursts
  • Long- and Short-Duration Events:
    • Astronomers categorize GRBs into long- and short-duration events.
    • Long-duration bursts, associated with massive star deaths in supernovae, last from 2 seconds to several hours.
    • Short-duration bursts, lasting less than 2 seconds, result from events like the merger of neutron stars or a neutron star with a black hole.
  • Common Outcome:
    • Regardless of type, both long and short-duration events lead to the creation of a new black hole.


  • Geographical Location:
    • The ionosphere is situated in Earth’s upper atmosphere, spanning an altitude of approximately 30 to 600 miles (50 to 950 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface.
  • Ionization Process:
    • Ionized by solar radiation, the ionosphere forms a layer of charged particles.
  • Dynamic Sensitivity:
    • Highly sensitive to changing magnetic and electrical conditions in space, often influenced by solar activity.
    • Expands and contracts in response to solar radiation.
Significance of the Ionosphere
  • Radio Propagation:
    • Influences the propagation of radio waves, reflecting and refracting them back to Earth.
    • Enables long-distance communication through radio transmissions.
  • Solar Radiation Shield:
    • Acts as a protective shield against harmful solar radiation, particularly extreme ultraviolet rays from the sun.
  • Auroras Formation:
    • Interactions between charged particles in the ionosphere and Earth’s magnetic field result in phenomena like auroras.
    • Auroras are luminous displays predominantly seen at high latitudes.

-Source: Indian Express

February 2024