Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 7
  • Cited by
    This article has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    Gillman, Michael P. and Erenler, Hilary E. 2016. Globally disruptive events show predictable timing patterns. International Journal of Astrobiology, p. 1.

    Neale, Patrick J. and Thomas, Brian C. 2016. Solar Irradiance Changes and Phytoplankton Productivity in Earth's Ocean Following Astrophysical Ionizing Radiation Events. Astrobiology, Vol. 16, Issue. 4, p. 245.

    Thomas, Brian C. and Goracke, Byron D. 2016. Ground-Level Ozone Following Astrophysical Ionizing Radiation Events: An Additional Biological Hazard?. Astrobiology, Vol. 16, Issue. 1, p. 1.

    Thomas, Brian C. Neale, Patrick J. and Snyder, Brock R. 2015. Solar Irradiance Changes and Photobiological Effects at Earth's Surface Following Astrophysical Ionizing Radiation Events. Astrobiology, Vol. 15, Issue. 3, p. 207.

    Dartnell, Lewis R. 2011. Ionizing Radiation and Life. Astrobiology, Vol. 11, Issue. 6, p. 551.

    Crawford, Ian A. Fagents, Sarah A. Joy, Katherine H. and Rumpf, M. Elise 2010. Lunar Palaeoregolith Deposits as Recorders of the Galactic Environment of the Solar System and Implications for Astrobiology. Earth, Moon, and Planets, Vol. 107, Issue. 1, p. 75.

    Vukotić, Branislav 2010. The set of habitable planets and astrobiological regulation mechanisms. International Journal of Astrobiology, Vol. 9, Issue. 02, p. 81.


Gamma-ray bursts as a threat to life on Earth

  • B.C. Thomas (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 May 2009

Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are likely to have made a number of significant impacts on the Earth during the last billion years. The gamma radiation from a burst within a few kiloparsecs would quickly deplete much of the Earth's protective ozone layer, allowing an increase in solar ultraviolet radiation reaching the surface. This radiation is harmful to life, damaging DNA and causing sunburn. In addition, NO2 produced in the atmosphere would cause a decrease in visible sunlight reaching the surface and could cause global cooling. Nitric acid rain could stress portions of the biosphere, but the increased nitrate deposition could be helpful to land plants. We have used a two-dimensional atmospheric model to investigate the effects on the Earth's atmosphere of GRBs delivering a range of fluences, at various latitudes, at the equinoxes and solstices, and at different times of day. We have estimated DNA damage levels caused by increased solar UVB radiation, reduction in solar visible light due to NO2 opacity, and deposition of nitrates through rainout of HNO3. In this paper we give a concise review of this work and discuss current and future work on extending and improving our estimates of the terrestrial impact of a GRB.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

D. Band (1993). BATSE observations of gamma-ray burst spectra. I – Spectral diversity. Astrophys. J. 413, 281292.

M. Behrenfeld , E. Boss , D.A. Siegel & D.M. Shea (2005). Carbon-based ocean productivity and phytoplankton physiology from space. Global Biogeochem. Cy. 19, GB1006.

E. Berger (2007). The ERO Host Galaxy of GRB 020127: implications for the metallicity of GRB progenitors. Astrophys. J. 660, 504508 (

J.S. Bloom (2009). Observations of the naked-eye GRB 080319B: implications of Nature's brightest explosion. Astrophys. J. 691, 723737 (

S. Campana (2008). Outliers from the mainstream: how a massive star can produce a gamma-ray burst. Astrophys. J. Lett. 683, L9L12 (

R. Chapman , R.S. Priddey & N.R. Tanvir (2008). Short gamma-ray bursts from SGR giant flares and neutron star mergers: two populations are better than one. Mon. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc. 395, 15151522 (

R. Chapman , R.N. Tanvir , R.S. Priddey & A.J. Levan (2007). How common are long gamma-ray bursts in the local universe? Mon. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc. Lett. 382, L21L25 (

T.P. Coohill (1991). Photobiology school. Action spectra again? Photochem. Photobiol. 54, 859870.

L.M. Ejzak , A.L. Melott , M.V. Medvedev & B.C. Thomas (2007). Terrestrial Consequences of Spectral and Temporal Variability in Ionizing Photon Events. Astrophys. J. 654, 373384 (

C.D. Dermer & J.M. Holmes (2005). Cosmic rays from gamma-ray bursts in the Galaxy. Astrophys. J. Lett. 628, L21L24 (

N. Gehrels , C.M. Laird , C.H. Jackman , J.K. Cannizzo , B.J. Mattson & W. Chen (2003). Ozone depletion from nearby supernovae. Astrophys. J. 585, 11691176 (

C. Kouveliotou , C.A. Meegan & G.J. Fishman (1993). Identification of two classes of gamma-ray bursts. Astrophys. J. Lett. 413, L101L104.

A.J. Levan (2008). On the nature of the short-duration GRB 050906. Mon. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc. 384, 541547 (

A.L. Melott , B.C. Thomas , D.P. Hogan , L.M. Ejzak & C.H. Jackman (2005). Climatic and biogeochemical effects of a galactic gamma ray burst. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, L14808 (

P. Meszaros (2001). Gamma-ray bursts: accumulating afterglow implications, progenitor clues, and prospects. Science 291, 7984 (

P.T. O'Brien & R. Willingale (2007). Gamma-ray bursts in the Swift era. Astrophys. Space Sci. 311, 167175.

T. Piran (2005). The physics of gamma-ray bursts. Rev. Mod. Phys. 76, 11431210 (

G.C. Reid & J.R. McAfee (1978). Effects of intense stratospheric ionisation events. Nature 275, 489492.

J. Scalo & J.C. Wheeler (2002). Astrophysical and astrobiological implications of gamma-ray burst properties. Astrophys. J. 566, 723737 (

R.B. Setlow (1974). The wavelengths in sunlight effective in producing skin cancer: A theoretical analysis. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 71, 33633366.

D.S. Smith , J. Scalo & J.C. Wheeler (2004). Transport of ionizing radiation in terrestrial-like exoplanet atmospheres. Icarus 171, 229253 (

R.C. Smith , K.S. Baker , O. Holm-Hansen & R. Olson (1980). Photoinhibition of photosynthesis in natural waters. Photochem. Photobio. 31, 585592.

B.C. Thomas & M.D. Honeyman (2008). Amphibian nitrate stress as an additional terrestrial threat from astrophysical ionizing radiation events? Astrobiology 8, 731733 (

B.C. Thomas & A.L. Melott (2006). Gamma-ray bursts and terrestrial planetary atmospheres. New J. Phys. 8, 120133 (

B.C. Thomas (2005a). Terrestrial ozone depletion due to a Milky Way gamma-ray burst. Astrophys. J. Lett. 622, L153L156 (

B.C. Thomas (2005b). Gamma-ray bursts and the Earth: Exploration of atmospheric, biological, climatic and biogeochemical effects. Astrophys. J. 634, 509533 (

S.E. Thorsett (1995). Terrestrial implications of cosmological gamma-ray bursts. Astrophys. J. Lett. 444, L53L55 (

F.J. Virgili , E.-W. Liang & B. Zhang (2009). Low-luminosity gamma-ray bursts as a distinct GRB population: a Monte Carlo analysis. Mon. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc. 392, 91–103 (

Z.-B. Zhang & C.-S. Choi (2008). An analysis of the durations of swift gamma-ray bursts. Astron. Astrophys. 484, 293297 (

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Journal of Astrobiology
  • ISSN: 1473-5504
  • EISSN: 1475-3006
  • URL: /core/journals/international-journal-of-astrobiology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *