Questions and Answers Regarding What the Next Superwave Might be Like


 After hearing the December 27th, 2005 Coast to Coast AM radio talk show, a number of listeners had questions in regard to what they should do to prepare for the next superwave.   Paul LaViolette (P L) attempts to address some of those questions below.

From an email he received 12/29/05:

<< I was glad to be reminded of your work on Coast to Coast AM.  I am not astronomical savvy but please correct me if I'm wrong.  The high northern latitudes will receive less direct gamma radiation and at a certain latitude, none at all.  So much for moving to Brazil... >>

P L:    It is true that the Galactic center hangs low in the Northern sky.  So, gamma rays from the Galactic center direction reaching northern hemisphere locations would be more attenuated since they would have a greater thickness of atmosphere to penetrate.  Following the initial burst, the lower velocity cosmic ray electrons would arrive from all directions.  So, which hemisphere one lived in would not matter except that regions closer to the poles where geomagnetic field screening of cosmic rays is normally lower would have less protection.  If you have plans to move to Brazil, this would probably not be a reason to change your plans.

If the superwave were to arrive without warning, the first effect would be seismic and then this would be followed by the gamma ray burst and EMP effects.  We may use the 2004 tsunami as an indicator in this respect, although a core explosion of the sort we are talking about would be on a much bigger scale.  If a similar sequence were to occur, then the occurrence of worldwide seismic events would give us probably a day or two warning that a gamma ray burst was imminent.  Unfortunately, many would have already perished if a gravity wave pulse were to trigger widespread seismic disturbances without any warning.

<< Can you suggest how many feet of earth one would need to have between oneself and the line of sight with the galactic core to survive the gamma ray burst? >>

P L:     Unfortunately we have little data on what a superwave would be like since we have not experienced any in modern times.  To infer for the future we must study ice core records telling us what happened in the past.  At present, and throughout most of the interglacial period superwave cosmic ray bombardment has been absent,and during this period the beryllium-10 is produced in the Earth's atmosphere mainly by cosmic ray protons of intergalactic origin which make up 99% of the cosmic ray background striking the Earth.  During the time when a superwave is passing our solar system, this baseline beryllium-10 production rate is boosted by the additional intense flux of Galactic cosmic ray electrons coming from the Galactic center that compose the incoming superwave.  Although the superwave initially consists of both cosmic ray protons and electrons when it departs from the Galactic center, on its journey through the galaxy the slower moving (low Lorentz factor) proton component lags behind, disperses and gets captured by the Galaxy's interstellar magnetic field leaving only the higher speed (high Lorentz factor) cosmic ray electron component to arrive as a coherent superwave volley.  However, compared to cosmic ray protons, cosmic ray electrons are less efficient at producing beryllium-10.  But if the superwave is sufficiently intense (contains sufficient intensities of incoming cosmic ray electrons), it will be able to raise atmospheric beryllium-10 production rate above the interglacial baseline rate.  Assuming that the beryllium-10 concentration spikes found in the ice age portion of the ice record indicate Earth's past exposure to superwave electrons, we may gauge the intensity of the superwave by the height of these peaks.  We then conclude that the superwave cosmic rays had an effect similar to that produced by a 2 to 4 fold increase in the cosmic ray proton background component.  The lower figure of this range is based on Be-10 measurements made on the Vostok, Antarctica ice core and the higher end of the range is based on Be-10 measurements made on the Camp Century, Greenland ice core.  There have not been that many Be-10 measurements made of the ice age portion of the Be-10 record so these data points are relatively spaced out in time with the order of centuries, or in some cases millennia between successive points.  So it is possible that researchers may have missed some events that produce Be-10 concentration spikes higher than this which are present in the ice record.

   Anyway, the range of what we are talking about from the cosmic ray component is more an issue of raising the genetic mutation rate from environmental exposure as opposed to being a lethal event.  A greater hazard probably comes in normal life from receiving chest X-rays or transcontinental air flights during solar storms. So, I don't think it is necessary to think in terms of how many feet of earth one might need to shelter oneself.  This type of lethal Galactic explosion scenario was explored in Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle's science fiction book entitled Inferno.  Also, more recently, some astronomers have made alarming statements that if the gamma ray pulse they detected coming from a distant galaxy had occurred within our own galaxy so many thousand light years away it would have sterilized all life on the side facing the explosion.  But I don't believe these scenarios are realistic for the types of events that have been coming from our own Galactic core and which the Earth has been experiencing during the past several million years.  If such events had occurred in the past 50,000 years, carbon-14 levels would have been way off scale.  We don't see this.

   A majority of the superwave cosmic rays would be in the form of cosmic ray electrons.  Unlike cosmic ray protons, these lighter particles are easily scattered by the Earth's atmosphere and would generate a low energy electron cascade. This lower energy shower would most likely be stopped by a typical house roof.  And so simply staying indoors would be the best strategy to avoiding exposure to this.

   In my dissertation, which is available in updated form as a CD ROM (see the website), I modeled the fairly large superwave event that passed by at the end of the last ice age.  There, I concluded that the superwave would have delivered a radiation dose of around 4 Roentgen per year, which is comparable to the maximum allowable occupational dose rate for human beings and five times the maximum allowable dose rate for pregnant women.  This kind of exposure would result in a doubling of the mutation rate over the course of one's lifetime.

 The cosmic ray bombardment would eventually destroy the Earth's ozone layer and this would generate a secondary hazard of exposure to solar UV radiation.  This might be more of a hazard than the superwave's direct effect on genetic mutation.

<< Can you tell me how long the gamma ray burst lasts? Hours?  Days? Weeks? >>

P L:    Taking the December 2004 gamma ray burst as an example, the brightest one to occur in the past several decades, this one declined from its maximum intensity over a five minute period.  This did not originate from a Galactic core.  So it is difficult to extrapolate to a Galactic center outburst.  However, I am guessing that a core gamma ray outburst would not persist for more than 10 minutes before fading out.  The entire superwave cosmic ray event, however, would persist for anywhere from a hundred to several thousand years.

<< Does the thickness of the 'black horizon' in the archaeologic strata give a suggestion [regarding the length of the gamma ray burst]?  I suppose worldwide earthquakes mean-- go to your nearest cave. >>

P L:    The black horizon I spoke about on the Coast to Coast show (the Usselo Horizon) is described in the 2005 edition of Earth Under Fire.  The conflagration that produced this horizon (~12,900 years ago) was not produced by a Galactic core gamma ray burst, but rather most likely was due to a giant coronal mass ejection from the Sun, one so powerful that it overpowered the Earth's magnetic field and contacted the Earth's surface.  It is this solar event that I have suggested was responsible for the extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna and for the conflagration/flood stories found in ancient myth.  More information may be found in the paper: "Evidence for a Solar Cause of the Pleistocene Mass Extinction."  Legends of our ancestors having taken refuge in caves I believe were referring to this coronal mass ejection event, and not to a surprise gamma ray burst.  There were other solar-- global warming/glacial flooding events before and after the 12,887 years b2k (before 2000) solar proton event (SPE) which may also have inspired catastrophe legends, but they were not as major as this one.   This terminal extinction event occurred several thousand years after the superwave had already been in progress.   Since the Sun currently is no where near the level of aggravation that preceded this mass extinction event, we would not presently be threatened by any similar situation.  Such super SPE's become a concern only after the superwave has pushed cosmic dust into the solar system and caused the Sun's surface to become progressively more and more active, perhaps over a time scale of centuries to millennia.

<< If one stayed indoors during daylight, then the ozone would not be directly problematic.  If one stayed under the earth (10 feet?) when the core was in the sky then that would be survivable.  There should a few hours in a 24 hour period that being out of doors would be safe for scavenging and hunting. >>

P L:    Judging from the Earth's past, I very much doubt that the next Galactic core gamma ray burst will produce a radiation hazard approaching that of the 12,887 years b2k solar proton event.  I am guessing that ice age people would have had ample warning of that super SPE since solar activity would have been progressively building up.  

The solar hazard that would be more of a threat during the initial stage of the superwave's arrival would be the gradual destruction of the Earth's ozone layer and the consequent high levels of UV radiation that would penetrate.  As you know this is already a problem in some southern parts of Australia and Chile.  Indeed, staying out of the Sun during such a phase would be advisable.

From an email he received 12/28/05:

<< I listened to part of Tuesday night's Coast to Coast with George Noory and heard just enough to frighten me into possibly building an underground shelter.  Unfortunately, we had a bomb shelter (late '50's) but we tore it down a year ago, thinking it was in pretty bad shape to withstand a nuclear bomb.  I had no idea at the time there were other things to fear that the shelter may have helped us with.  Now I am considering either excavating the old shelter or building a new one.  Am I being overly pessimistic or just cautious? >>

P L:    In regard to building a new bomb shelter, I would say there is no need to at present. In terms of needing shelter from intense nuclear radiation, a terrorist attack might currently pose more of a threat.  On the Coast to Coast show when I said that the superwave would carry an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) similar to a high-altitude nuclear explosion, I did not mean to imply that the superwave would deliver ionizing radiation effects similar to a nearby nuclear explosion, e.g., such as one capable of delivering a lethal dose of radiation.  A high-altitude nuclear explosion such as the Starfish explosion, which was conducted over the Pacific Ocean at an altitude of about 450 kilometers would not have produced much ground radiation since its high-energy particles became trapped in the Earth's magnetic field. But its EMP was able to black out the Hawaiian Islands 1500 kilometers away.  I discuss this in my dissertation CD ROM.  My reference to the high-altitude nuclear explosion was in regard to the EMP effects which might be associated with the prompt arrival of a superwave and which could knock out satellites, overload the power distribution network, and zap semiconductor electronic devices.

   As for a superwave, the Earth's atmosphere would impede much of the electron cosmic ray radiation arriving from a superwave.  There would also be a proton component associated with the initial arrival of the superwave and its associated gamma ray burst. This would be more of a concern from a radiation hazard standpoint since it would easily penetrate through the atmosphere.  But as I have pointed out above, I don't see the levels producing a significant threat. And one would be able to be protected from low energy electron showers simply by staying indoors.

   However, some must indeed find it unsettling to hear rumors of secret projects being conducted by the "shadow government" to dig underground tunnels and dwellings presumably to house some fraction of the population in the event of a future disaster.  Most of these are stories that circulate on the internet and are difficult to corroborate without more background information.  But, let us suppose for the moment that these stories are true.  Have these underground bunkers been constructed for a possible nuclear attack, or for some natural disaster arriving from space?  If the latter is the case, does this shadow government know something that we don't know.  Do they have some inside information obtained through possible contact with ET's that some catastrophic event is imminent and that such underground dwellings will be necessary for future survival?   Relative to the present discussion about superwaves, the question arises is a superwave about to arrive and will it be of such high initial intensity that people should protect themselves in underground shelters.  My answer as a scientist would be to look at what we do know, which is to look at the past record and judging on that basis I would say that the chance of life threatening superwave radiation hazard arriving unexpectedly is rather remote.  But, I could be wrong.  Unfortunately, I don't see many of my scientist colleagues looking into this matter.

From an email he received 12/26/05 before the interview:

<< Would you please prepare number (range of years) that represents the statistically most significant window for the next galactic center energy burst, based upon observed historical data. >>

P L:    A conservative guess would be that there is a 90% chance that a superwave will arrive in the next four centuries.  I cannot rule out the possibility that one might arrive around the time of the Mayan calendar end date of 2012, as some proclaim.   And others have felt that a catastrophic event might occur even sooner.  It is just that investigations of the Galactic center mass (Sagittarius A*) show that the core continues in its present quiescent state.  Whether this present tranquil state will without warning come to a sudden end, I cannot say.  All we can do at present is talk of future probabilities by looking at what has happened in the past.  A study of the past shows that we are overdue for a small event, one similar to the bursts that resulted in the 14 gas expulsions which issued from the Galactic center over the past 5300 years.  It has been 700 years since the last event and on only two occasions was there a time lapse between events longer than this.  Whether the next event will be a small superwave event (Magnitude 1 event) or a much larger climatically significant event (Magnitude 3 or 4 event) is difficult to say.  

   In referring to past events, it helps to use a magnitude scale as is used in describing the strengths of earthquakes and tornadoes.  However, since we do not have real time data, such a scale is understandably very qualitative.  We might rank the severity of Galactic superwaves as given below.

Galactic Superwave Event Ranking

Magnitude 1:  A superwave cosmic ray burst that is not detectable above cosmic background levels but which carries a gamma ray burst and gravity wave pulse at its forefront.  This would likely produce seismic and EMP effects much stronger than the December 2004 earthquake and gamma ray burst.

Magnitude 2:  A short duration superwave cosmic ray burst that produces a moderate increase above cosmic background levels and a minor climatic disturbance.  This would be similar to the events that occurred around 5300 years ago which produced approximately a 50% increase in the cosmic ray background over a period of about one to two hundred years.  This resulted in some temporary climatic change such as blizzards, but was not severe enough to perturb climate from its present interglacial phase.

Magnitude 3:  A long duration superwave cosmic ray burst that produces a major increase in the cosmic ray background level, doubling the background level, lasting several hundred to a thousand years, and injecting interstellar dust in sufficient quantities to destabilize climate initiating a period of glacial growth.  Examples would be the events that initiated glacial stage 5-d about 110,000 years ago or stage 4 about 70,000 years ago.

Magnitude 4:  A much longer duration superwave cosmic ray burst capable of increasing the cosmic ray levels 2 to 4 fold above the background level and lasting several thousand years, with dust injection into the solar system maintained long enough to activate the Sun into a state of excessive flare activity.  Such an event would induce climatic effects more extreme than a Magnitude 3 superwave, sufficient to initiate a global warming period that would terminate an ice age or induce an interstadial.  Examples would be the superwave events that ended the Illinoisan glaciation (stage 6) about 130,000 - 140,000 years ago or ended the Wisconsin ice age about 16,000 - 10,000 years ago, the more recent precipitating the Pleistocene extinction.  Another event around 34,000 - 37,000 years ago occurred around the time of the demise of Neanderthal Man.

Paul LaViolette

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