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Melissa Snell

Were gamma rays to blame?

By January 22, 2013

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Last year scientists found evidence of unusually high levels of radioactivity occurring in the late eighth century. Radioactive carbon in ancient Japanese trees and high levels of radioactive isotopes in the ice of Antarctica were two indicators that the Earth was hit by a massive burst of radiation in 774 or 775 C.E. What caused this remarkable spike? Professor Ralph Neuhauser, leader of a research team at the University of Jena, credits it to an explosive cosmic bang -- possibly the collision of two neutron stars or black holes.

Yet medieval folk would have been unaware of the event, because it would not have been visible to the naked eye.

But Gamma-ray bursts are exceedingly rare -- so rare, in fact, that the likelihood of them being the cause of this radiation spike is practically nil. Solar flares might be responsible.

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