774–775 carbon-14 spike

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The 774–775 Carbon-14 Spike is an observed increase of 1.2% in the concentration of carbon-14 isotope in tree rings dated to the years 774 or 775 AD, which is about 20 times as high as the normal background rate of variation. It was discovered during a study of Japanese cedar trees, with the year of occurrence determined through dendrochronology.[1] A surge in beryllium isotope 10Be, detected in Antarctic ice cores, has also been associated with the 774–775 event.[2]

The event appears to have been global, with the same carbon-14 signal found in tree rings from Germany, Russia, the United States, and New Zealand.[2][3][4]

Fig.1 The time profile of the carbon-14 spike around 774 AD. The colored dots represent the measurements in Japanese (M12) and German (Oak) trees, while the black lines represent the modeled profile corresponding to the instant production of carbon-14. Modified after.[2][clarification needed]

The signal exhibits a sharp increase of ~1.2% followed by a slow decline (see Figure 1), which is typical for an instant production of carbon-14 in the atmosphere,[2] indicating that the event was short in duration. The globally averaged production of carbon-14 for this event is calculated as Q= (1.1-1.5)×108 atoms/cm2.[2][5][6]


Several possible causes of the event have been considered.

«Annus Domini 774. This year the Northumbrians banished their king, Alred, from York at Easter-tide; and chose Ethelred, the son of Mull, for their lord, who reigned four winters. This year also appeared in the heavens a red crucifix, after sunset; the Mercians and the men of Kent fought at Otford; and wonderful serpents were seen in the land of the South-Saxons».

A "red crucifix" was recorded by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as appearing in the skies of Britain for the year 774; since no supernova remnant has been found for this year, it is interpreted as an aurora borealis.[2]

In China, there are no clear references to an aurora in the mid 770s, as happened on 762; and "comet"-sightings of the 770s do not match the expected atmospheric phenomena.[8] Instead an anomalous "thunderstorm" was recorded for 775.[9]

The common paradigm is that the event was caused by a solar particle event (SPE) from a very strong solar flare, perhaps the strongest ever known, but still within the Sun's abilities.[2][5][10][11][12] Another discussed scenario of the event origin, involving a gamma-ray burst,[6][13] appears unlikely since the event was also observed in isotopes 10Be and 36Cl.[12]

Frequency of similar events[edit]

The AD 774/5 event in view of 10Be, 14C and 36Cl.

The event of 774 is the strongest spike over the last 11,000 years in the record of cosmogenic isotopes,[10] but it is not unique. A similar event occurred in 993 or 994, but it was only 0.6 times as strong.[14] Several other events of the same kind are also suspected to have occurred during the Holocene epoch.[10]

From these statistics, one may expect that such strong events occur once per tens of millennia, while weaker events may occur once per millennium or even century. The event of 774 did not cause catastrophic consequences for life on Earth,[11] but had it happened in modern times, it may have produced catastrophic damage to modern technology, particularly to communication and space-borne navigation systems. In addition, a solar flare capable of producing the observed isotopic effect would pose considerable risk to astronauts.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Miyake, F.; Nagaya, K.; Masuda, K.; Nakamura, T. (2012). "A signature of cosmic-ray increase in AD 774–775 from tree rings in Japan". Nature. 486 (7402): 240–242. Bibcode:2012Natur.486..240M. PMID 22699615. doi:10.1038/nature11123. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Usoskin, I. G.; et al. (2013). "The AD775 cosmic event revisited: The Sun is to blame". Astronomy & Astrophysics. 552 (1): L3. Bibcode:2013A&A...552L...3U. arXiv:1302.6897Freely accessible. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201321080. 
  3. ^ Jull, A.J.T.; Panyushkina, I.P.; Lange, T.E.; et al. (2014). "Excursions in the 14C record at AD 774-775 in tree rings from Russia and America". Geophys. Res. Lett. 41: 3004–3010. Bibcode:2014GeoRL..41.3004J. doi:10.1002/2014GL059874. 
  4. ^ Güttler, D.; Beer, J.; Bleicher, N. (2013). "The 774/775 AD event in the southern hemisphere". Annual report of the laboratory of ion beam physics. ETH-Zurich. 
  5. ^ a b Melott, A.L.; Thomas, B.C. (2012). "Causes of an AD 774-775 C increase". Nature. 491: E1. Bibcode:2012Natur.491E...1M. PMID 23192153. arXiv:1212.0490Freely accessible. doi:10.1038/nature11695. 
  6. ^ a b Pavlov, A.K.; Blinov, A.V.; Konstantinov, A.N.; et al. (2013). "AD 775 pulse of cosmogenic radionuclides production as imprint of a Galactic gamma-ray burst". Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 435: 2878–2884. Bibcode:2013MNRAS.435.2878P. arXiv:1308.1272Freely accessible. doi:10.1093/mnras/stt1468. 
  7. ^ Nancy Owano (2012-06-30). "Red Crucifix sighting in 774 may have been supernova". Phys.org. 
  8. ^ Chapman, J.; Neuhäuser, D.L.; Neuhäuser, R.; Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2015). "A review of East Asian reports of aurorae and comets circa AD 775". Astronomische Nachrichten. WILEY-VCH Verlag. 336 (6): 530–544. Bibcode:2015AN....336..530C. doi:10.1002/asna.201512193. 
  9. ^ Ya-Ting Chai & Yuan-Chuan Zou (2015). "Searching for events in Chinese ancient records to explain the increase in 14C from 774–775 CE and 993–994 AD". Research in Astronomy and Astrophysics. 15 (9). 
  10. ^ a b c Usoskin, I.G.; Kovaltsov, G.A. (2012). "Occurrence of Extreme Solar Particle Events: Assessment from Historical Proxy Data". Astrophys. J. 757: 92. Bibcode:2012ApJ...757...92U. arXiv:1207.5932Freely accessible. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/757/1/92. 
  11. ^ a b Thomas, B. C.; Melott, A. L.; Arkenberg, K. R.; Snyder, B. R. (2013). "Terrestrial effects of possible astrophysical sources of an AD 774-775 increase in 14C production". Geophysical Research Letters. 40 (6): 1237. Bibcode:2013GeoRL..40.1237T. arXiv:1302.1501Freely accessible. doi:10.1002/grl.50222. 
  12. ^ a b Mekhaldi; et al. (2015). "Multiradionuclide evidence for the solar origin of the cosmic-ray events of ᴀᴅ 774/5 and 993/4". Nature Communications. 6: 8611. Bibcode:2015NatCo...6E8611M. PMC 4639793Freely accessible. PMID 26497389. doi:10.1038/ncomms9611. 
  13. ^ Hambaryan, V. V.; Neuhauser, R. (2013). "A Galactic short gamma-ray burst as cause for the 14C peak in AD 774/5". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 430 (1): 32–36. Bibcode:2013MNRAS.430...32H. arXiv:1211.2584Freely accessible. doi:10.1093/mnras/sts378. 
  14. ^ Miyake, F.; Masuda, K.; Nakamura, T. (2013). "Another rapid event in the carbon-14 content of tree rings". Nature Communications. 4: 1748. Bibcode:2013NatCo...4E1748M. PMID 23612289. doi:10.1038/ncomms2783. 
  15. ^ Townsend, L. W.; Porter, J. A.; deWet, W. C; Smith, W. J.; McGirl, N. A.; Heilbronn, L. H.; Moussa, H. M. (2016-06-01). "Extreme solar event of AD775: Potential radiation exposure to crews in deep space". Acta Astronautica. Special Section: Selected Papers from the International Workshop on Satellite Constellations and Formation Flying 2015. 123: 116–120. doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2016.03.002. 

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