Astrobiological Effects of Gamma-Ray Bursts in the Milky Way Galaxy

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
September 29, 2016
Filed under
Astrobiological Effects of Gamma-Ray Bursts in the Milky Way Galaxy

A planet having protective ozone within the collimated beam of a Gamma Ray Burst (GRB) may suffer ozone depletion, potentially causing a mass extinction event to existing life on a planet’s surface and oceans.

We model the dangers of long GRBs to planets in the Milky Way and utilize a static statistical model of the Galaxy that matches major observable properties, such as the inside-out star formation history, metallicity evolution, and 3-dimensional stellar number density distribution. The GRB formation rate is a function of both the star formation history and metallicity; however, the extent to which chemical evolution reduces the GRB rate over time in the Milky Way is still an open question. Therefore, we compare the damaging effects of GRBs to biospheres in the Milky Way using two models. One model generates GRBs as a function of the inside-out star formation history.

The other model follows the star formation history, but generates GRB progenitors as a function of metallicity, thereby favoring metal-poor host regions of the Galaxy over time. If the GRB rate only follows the star formation history, the majority of the GRBs occur in the inner Galaxy.

However, if GRB progenitors are constrained to low metallicity environments, then GRBs only form in the metal-poor outskirts at recent epochs. Interestingly, over the past 1 Gyr, the surface density of stars (and their corresponding planets) that survive a GRB is still greatest in the inner galaxy in both models. The present day danger of long GRBs to life at the solar radius (R⊙=8 kpc) is low. We find that at least ∼65% of stars survive a GRB over the past 1 Gyr.

Furthermore, when the GRB rate was expected to have been enhanced at higher redshifts, such as z≳0.5, our results suggest that a large fraction of planets would have survived these lethal GRB events.

Michael G. Gowanlock
(Submitted on 29 Sep 2016)

Comments: Accepted for publication in ApJ. 36 pages, 8 figures
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Astrophysics of Galaxies (astro-ph.GA); High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena (astro-ph.HE)
Cite as: arXiv:1609.09355 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1609.09355v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Michael Gowanlock
[v1] Thu, 29 Sep 2016 14:18:14 GMT (179kb,D)

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻