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November 29 2012

Massive solar flare could have caused eighth century radiation burst


A mysterious spike in atmospheric carbon-14 levels 12 centuries ago might be a sign the Sun is capable of producing solar storms dozens of times worse than anything we’ve ever seen, a team of physicists calculates in a paper published in Nature.

Carbon-14 (14C) is created when high-energy radiation strikes the Earth’s upper atmosphere, converting nitrogen-14 into carbon-14, which eventually makes its way into plants via photosynthesis.

Earlier this year, a team of Japanese physicists discovered a spike in 14C in tree rings of Japanese cedars dating from the 774-775 growing season. But they were unable to explain where that 14C might have come from because all possible explanations appeared unlikely.

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