Supernovas are among the most powerful explosions in the Universe and their effects can be felt even very far from the place where the event occurs. In 2022, part of the Earth’s ozone layer was deactivated for a few minutes precisely due to the action of a supernova.
The explosion occurred on October 9 last year and was recorded by space telescopes. In this case, this was not just any supernova, and it was considered by many astronomers to be the brightest of all time.
Now, research published last Tuesday (14) in Nature Communications discovered that the event that occurred 1.9 billion light years away from Earth had an impact on our ozone layer.
“The ozone was partially depleted — it was temporarily destroyed,” Pietro Ubertini, an astronomer at the National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome who was involved in the discovery of the atmospheric event, told the New York Times.
Despite the impact, the consequences were not considered dangerous, as the layer was only disabled for a few minutes before repairing itself automatically. However, if the event occurred closer to Earth it could be catastrophic.
How was the ozone layer deactivated by a supernova?
To identify the explosion’s damage to our ozone layer, researchers looked for signs at the top of the ionosphere. They identified a sharp jump in the electric field that occurred at the same time the explosion was identified.
The results show that the gamma rays ionized the ozone molecules in the ionosphere. Once ionized, they become unable to absorb any ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. Luckily, the event is temporary.
This type of event in the ozone layer has been detected before, but this is the first time that an explosion so distant has caused an impact of this type on Earth.
“Fortunately for us, this gamma ray burst was extremely distant, making its effects more of a scientific curiosity than a threat,” Laura Hayes, a solar physicist at the European Space Agency who was not involved in the study, told the American newspaper.
According to scientists, if the explosion were about 1 million times larger, the layer could be deactivated for days or months. Luckily for us, an explosion as strong as last year’s is rare and occurs every 10,000 years. Furthermore, it is not always that gamma ray jets are directed towards Earth.