Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Astronomers Unravel A Mystery Of The Dark Ages: Undergraduates' Work Blames Comet For 6th-century 'Nuclear Winter'

Date:
February 4, 2004
Source:
Cardiff University
Summary:
Scientists at Cardiff University, UK, believe they have discovered the cause of crop failures and summer frosts some 1,500 years ago – a comet colliding with Earth.

Scientists at Cardiff University, UK, believe they have discovered the cause of crop failures and summer frosts some 1,500 years ago – a comet colliding with Earth.

Related Articles


The team has been studying evidence from tree rings, which suggests that the Earth underwent a series of very cold summers around 536-540 AD, indicating an effect rather like a nuclear winter.

The scientists in the School of Physics and Astronomy believe this was caused by a comet hitting the earth and exploding in the upper atmosphere. The debris from this giant explosion was such that it enveloped the earth in soot and ash, blocking out the sunlight and causing the very cold weather.

This effect is known as a plume and is similar to that which was seen when comet Shoemaker-Levy-9 hit Jupiter in 1995.

Historical references from this period - known as the Dark Ages – are sparse, but what records there are, tell of crop failures and summer frosts.

The work was carried out by two Cardiff undergraduate students, Emma Rigby and Mel Symonds, as part of their student project work under the supervision of Dr Derek Ward-Thompson.

Their findings are reported in the February issue of Astronomy and Geophysics, the in-house magazine of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The surprising result of the new work is just how small a comet is needed to cause such dramatic effects. The scientists calculate that a comet not much more than half a kilometre across could cause a global nuclear winter effect. This is significantly smaller than was previously thought.

Dr. Ward-Thompson said: "One of the exciting aspects of this work is that we have re-classified the size of comet that represents a global threat. This work shows that even a comet of only half a kilometre in size could have global consequences. Previously nothing less than a kilometre across was counted as a global threat. If such an event happened again today, then once again a large fraction of the earth's population could face starvation."

The comet impact caused crop failures and wide-spread starvation among the sixth century population. The timing coincides with the Justinian Plague, widely believed to be the first appearance of the Black Death in Europe. It is possible that the plague was so rampant and took hold so quickly because the population was already weakened by starvation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cardiff University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Cardiff University. "Astronomers Unravel A Mystery Of The Dark Ages: Undergraduates' Work Blames Comet For 6th-century 'Nuclear Winter'." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 February 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/02/040204000254.htm>.
Cardiff University. (2004, February 4). Astronomers Unravel A Mystery Of The Dark Ages: Undergraduates' Work Blames Comet For 6th-century 'Nuclear Winter'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/02/040204000254.htm
Cardiff University. "Astronomers Unravel A Mystery Of The Dark Ages: Undergraduates' Work Blames Comet For 6th-century 'Nuclear Winter'." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/02/040204000254.htm (accessed October 31, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Friday, October 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Antares Liftoff Explosion

Raw: Antares Liftoff Explosion

AP (Oct. 29, 2014) Observers near Wallops Island recorded what they thought would be a routine rocket launch Tuesday night. What they recorded was a major rocket explosion shortly after lift off. (Oct 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Russian Cargo Ship Docks at Space Station

Raw: Russian Cargo Ship Docks at Space Station

AP (Oct. 29, 2014) Just hours after an American cargo run to the International Space Station ended in flames, a Russian supply ship has arrived at the station with a load of fresh supplies. (Oct. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Journalist Captures Moment of Antares Rocket Explosion

Journalist Captures Moment of Antares Rocket Explosion

Reuters - US Online Video (Oct. 29, 2014) A space education journalist is among those who witness and record the explosion of an unmanned Antares rocket seconds after its launch. Rough Cut (no reporter narration) Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rocket Explosion Under Investigation

Rocket Explosion Under Investigation

AP (Oct. 28, 2014) NASA and Orbital Sciences officials say they are investigating the explosion of an unmanned commercial supply rocket bound for the International Space Station. It blew up moments after liftoff Tuesday evening over the launch site in Virginia. (Oct. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins