Tree ring data from the 8th century hint that a cosmic catastrophe was averted on the “privileged planet.”
As if you didn’t have enough to worry about, there are things out there that could kill us. Asteroids or comets, solar flares, and exploding stars are just some of the planet-killing dangers that have not (yet) destroyed civilization as we know it. Some faint smoking-gun evidence suggests that while Charlemagne was marching through Westphalia in 775 AD conquering the Saxons, his army was completely unaware of a cosmic battle of epic proportions taking place overhead.
According to Astrobiology Magaazine, one of the universe’s most energetic events may have occurred that year, sending a torrent of deadly gamma rays at Earth. Completely invisible, these rays could have sterilized the planet in seconds had the source been close enough. From at least 3,000 light-years away, though, Earth’s atmosphere was capable of shielding the biosphere. The energy was safely absorbed by gases in the atmosphere. Nobody felt a thing.
In 2012 scientist Fusa Miyake announced the detection of high levels of the isotope carbon-14 and beryllium-10 in tree rings formed in 775 CE, suggesting that a burst of radiation struck the Earth in the year 774 or 775. Carbon-14 and beryllium-10 form when radiation from space collides with nitrogen atoms, which then decay to these heavier forms of carbon and beryllium. The earlier research ruled out the nearby explosion of a massive star (a supernova) as nothing was recorded in observations at the time and no remnant has been found.
Prof. Miyake also considered whether a solar flare could have been responsible, but these are not powerful enough to cause the observed excess of carbon-14. Large flares are likely to be accompanied by ejections of material from the Sun’s corona, leading to vivid displays of the northern and southern lights (aurorae), but again no historical records suggest these took place.
The leading explanation remaining, then, was a GRB between 3,000 and 12,000 light-years away sent an intense storm of particles that was undetectable to kings and peasants of 8th-century Europe. Being sufficiently distant, it was harmless.
Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) can take less than two seconds to blast high-energy radiation in all directions. Only discovered in 1967, they are believed to occur when compact objects like white dwarfs, neutron stars or black holes collide and merge. Most of the observed GRB’s have been billions of light-years away. A GRB can release as much energy in a few seconds as the sun could emit in 10 billion years.
Tree-ring dating only extends back about 3,000 years (most of recorded human history); this is the only such anomaly found in the data. According to Wikipedia’s entry, though, there must have been a thousand GRBs close enough to Earth to affect life since life began.
The evidence is circumstantial that a GRB caused the tree-ring anomaly, but this points out a couple of interesting things. One is that in all recorded human history, there has not yet been a cosmic extinction event—no superflare from the sun, no massive impact, no GRB. The Tunguska Event (probably a comet) was a close call, but bad as that was, it was isolated. Most people have no concept of the energy out there that could wipe us out as they live out their lives under the warm sun.
The other point to ponder is how Earth could have survived a thousand wallops powerful enough to affect life on Earth, if the evolutionary age of 4.5 billion years is granted. Is that reasonable? Even the period of a few million years for human evolution raises the stakes. Some evolutionists try to link a couple of presumed evolutionary extinctions to cosmic events, but it seems a supreme case of special pleading to expect a thousand GRBs to cause some extinctions but never a planetary extinction—and that’s not counting the chances for superflares or impacts.
Our “luck” so far doesn’t mean the day won’t come. Some believe some big wallops have been predicted. If you haven’t seen The Privileged Planet, this might be a good time to watch it and consider many other reasons to believe that a Designer had some purposes for our tiny little patch of the universe.