Something Gamma this Way Comes...

Chandra X-ray image of GRB 050709, a gamma ray burst on 7/9/05.

continued from Page 1

Enter the Galactic Superwave

On a related front, renegade American physicist Paul LaViolette has proposed that a "galactic superwave" may be approaching our neck of interstellar woods. Such waves are generated by massive explosions from the center of other galaxies, an event that's evidently commonplance in the universe. In his book Earth Under Fire, LaViolette speculates that a superwave blasted the Earth at the end of the last ice age.

Ice core drills containing called berillium-10 seem to bear out the claim. LaViolette says this same radioactive isotope can be found in other ice cores at approximately 26,000-year intervals. That timespan led him to conclude that destructive superwaves hit the Earth in step with the astronomical Precession of the Equinoxes. (See Ancient Method for Calculating Cataclysms for more on precession.)

To corroborate the ice core data, LaViolette cites fables and myths from antiquity, many of which appear to give eyewitness accounts of the last superwave disaster. For instance, a passage from the biblical Book of Joel describes:

"...a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains... A fire devoureth before them... the land is as the garden of Eden before them and behind them a desolate wilderness. The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble... The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come."

In the same vein, LaViolette interprets Norse legends as referring to a superwave event which they referred to as "The Winter of the Wolf". Several accounts appear to connect catastrophic events on Earth to a supernova sighted in the Lupus Constellation (a.k.a. The Wolf) around 13,400 years ago. After recounting these stories, LaViolette goes on to muse:

"Perhaps the English folklore tale about the three pigs and the wolf who 'huffs and puffs and blows their house down' is also a recollection of this ancient cosmic disaster. The story teaches that only those who have taken precautions againt the wolf by building a solid house of brick and stone are able to survive his unexpected advance."

The physicist notes that the Asian earthquake and tsunami of December 26, 2004 were followed three days later by the largest supernova ever recorded. This one came from a star 26,000 light years away, called SGR 1806-20. The physicist thinks the two events were triggered by the same superwave as it passed through space.

Emergency Response and Preparedness for Radioactive Fallout

Whether it's gamma rays from space, solar radiation or a nuclear explosion, evasive measures are much the same. If the initial impact causes UV radiation or a shockwave, few people will have time to prepare for that. (More on fallout shelters below.) If you do see an explosion, avert your gaze to avoid temporary blindness (or turning to salt), than get down in a protective stance. A blast will shatter windows, if not entire buildings, which is why schoolchildren are taught very young to "duck and cover".

After the event, having an adequate response is another matter entirely. This is where knowing your enemy will dictate smart decisions and save countless lives. After a blast, radiation floats in the air on dust particles, eventually falling to Earth. The airborne concentration is highest initially, so guarding your lungs becomes Job #1. Find an airtight space, preferably inside a building whose windows remain in tact. If you're not near any standing or intact structures, find a vehicle whose windows will seal shut or a similarly enclosure. While out of doors, tie a t-shirt or other piece of cloth around your nose and mouth like a bandana to filter the air as much as possible.

If you're in a highrise, your next move will be to descend immediately to the basement (or wherever the boiler room is located), and have the stationary engineers shut down the air conditioning. Then inspect the building for leaks (e.g. open windows, doors and roof vents) and seal them up. If the building is damaged, you'll have to hole up in that part of it that you can seal tight as a drum. After that, it's a matter of waiting for the particles to settle onto the ground (which may take several days). Before then, you'll hopefull see a search and rescue team arriving on site with a particulate respirator you can wear as you're transported from the area.

Top photo depicts an underground fallout shelter made by the Kelsey-Hayes Company in Detroit in 1963. Notice the steel culvert that encases the shelter, buried a few feet underground. The lower photo is a modern version of the same steel culvert construction, this one built by Utah Shelter Systems. With a power generator, a supply of food and water, and a HEPA filter attached to any incoming air shaft, you should be good to go during a nuclear attack or moderate-sized gamma ray burst.

Once radioactive particles hit the ground (potentially thousands of miles away from the impact site), they contaminate water supplies, outdoor agriculture, playgrounds, sidewalks and every other surface for years to come. As we saw in Japan, evacuation zones were established around the nuclear reactors after the accident there. Crops growing in the region had to be screened for radioactivity, municipal water supplies monitored and fishing off the east coast suspended.

Measures were also implemented by the Japanese to minimize the absorption of radiation into the thyroid gland, which causes cancer (especially in children). Taking potassium iodide supplement reduces this risk by saturating the thyroid with good iodine. However, there can be unwanted side effects, so health professionals recommend natural sources of iodine like kelp (a type of seaweed) or iodized salt.

If radioactive particles do enter your body, all is not lost. Scientists have discovered that the pectin in apples will bind with the particles and remove them through the normal process of elimination. In addition, chlorophyll-rich foods like spirulina (another type of seaweed), leafy green vegetables, parsley, alfalfa, celery and wheatgrass detoxes radiation and remove uranium, copper and other metals from the body. To remove airborne radioactive particles, HEPA filters were invented during the days of the Manhattan Project. Nowadays these filters are attached to ventilation systems (including those on passenger airliners), vaccuums and respirators. For more on preventing and treating radiation exposure, see the links in the gray box.

Then there's the matter of constructing a fallout shelter in advance of a galactic superwave or a CME. Gamma radiation is composed of shortwave protons (light energy) moving at the speed of light. It penetrates almost everything but lead and other very densely packed materials. That's why most fallout shelters incorporate tons of dirt, rock and concrete into their construction. Historically, underground bunkers and caves in the moutains have protected humans from the impact of gamma rays, whether from space or nuclear testing in the Nevada desert. To understand why a substantial shelter is needed, here's some advice left on a 2012 forum a few years ago:

"On the surface of the planet in a regular dwelling, you will boil inside your own skin like an egg in even modest amounts of fallout or during a solar flare/magnetic cookoff down here ... and yet just three meters inside an underground shelter you are as safe as if you were in your cradle in a nursery. That's all it takes. Two meters of crushed rock and a meter of earth is literally enough shielding to protect you from a nearby supernova if you properly block up your entrances and guard against reflected radiation."

Illustration: Linda Huff and Priscilla Frisch.

Even if you do dismiss doomsday trackers as a little off-base with their speculation, it's not as though there's a shortage of facts to keep egging them on. In late 2009, the Voyager 2 space probe reached the outer limits of the heliosphere, uncovering an interstellar cloud, just as Russia's Dmitriev had warned. Investigators didn't seem too worried, dubbing it "the Fluff". However,, the cloud's magnetic field was stronger than expected at 3.7 to 5.5 microgauss when measured from a substantial distance.

Discovery News described the Fluff as a vast, wispy cloud of hot hydrogen and helium stretching 30 light-years across. Science writer Ian O'Neill went on to note, "As the solar system continues to orbit around the galactic disk, it will encounter more clouds, deforming the heliosphere to lesser or greater degrees, potentially influencing life on Earth."

Maybe not such a fluffy prognosis.

- - -

Next topic: Aliens Without Borders
See also: Sunspot Cycle Vs. the Power Grid

- - -

2012 Guide Home


Copyright 2009-2011

More Resources

Articles of Interest

"Death Rays From Space: How Bad Are They?" By Michael Schirber. Astrobiology Magazine 8/27/09

"The Dying Star with Deadly Potential." Discovery News 8/4/09.

"Gamma-Ray Burst Caused Mass Extinction?" National Geographic 4/3/09.

Did a gamma-ray burst initiate the late Ordovician mass extinction? International Journal of Astrobiology (4/12/04)

"Ulysses Data Reveals Solar Wind Decreasing."

"GLAST Successfully Launches, Prepares to Scan Sky for Gamma-Rays." 6/11/08

"VERITAS Discovers Very High Energy Gamma Rays from the Starburst Galaxy M82." National Science Foundation press release. 11/2/09.

"Space storm alert: 90 seconds from catastrophe." By Michael Brooks. The New Scientist 3/23/09

"Severe Space Weather Events--Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts (of a technological collapse...)" Space Studies Board, National Academy of Sciences. Released 1/2009.

"Sun's protective 'bubble' is shrinking." Telegraph, U.K. 10/19/08

"Does a Companion Star to the Sun Cause Earth's Periodic Mass Extinctions?" LBL Research Review Spring 1987.

Questions and Answers Regarding What the Next Superwave Might be Like. Paul LaViolette.


Gamma Ray Astronomy

Swift Gamma Ray Bust Explorer
Penn State University

Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope Formerly GLAST.

Interstellar Boundary Explorer NASA Southwest Research Institute

Preventing Radiation Exposure
YouTube video

How Fallout Shelters Work

Eleven Steps to Surviving Radiation

Preparing for a Nuclear Blast FEMA.

NASA Satellites (image)

SuperWave Theory - Interview with Dr. Paul LaViolette YouTube video


Apocalypse 2012: A Scientific Investigation Into Civilization's End (2007) by Lawrence E. Joseph.

Earth Under Fire: Humanity's Survival of the Apocalypse (1997) by Paul A. LaViolette

Death from the Skies!: These Are the Ways the World Will End (2008) by Philip Plait.

A Guide to the End of the World (2002) by Bill McGuire.

The Intent of Creation (1978) by Oliver Reiser.

2012 Guide Home
Be sure to check out our purchase recommendations at Amazon...