The ongoing pole reversal, which is occurring right now, temporarily weakens the radiation shield around the earth, meaning that a burst of gamma rays could incinerate the planet. Thankfully, observations by the Hubble space telescope tell us that this is not a danger in the near future.

Robert Roy Britt writes in that Hubble is being used by NASA to study long-duration gamma-ray bursts (defined as bursts that last more than a couple of seconds), which are powerful flashes of high-energy radiation that emanate from some exploding stars?like our sun. The Hubble study found that these burst tend to come from small, irregularly shaped galaxies, so it is unlikely one of them will occur in our Milky Way galaxy. They usually occur before galaxies merge to create the larger galaxies like the one our solar system is part of. Hubble looked at 42 bursts, and only one of them came from a large spiral galaxy like the Milky Way.

However, short-duration gamma-ray bursts, which are 100 to 1,000 times less powerful and last less then two seconds (and sometimes just milliseconds) may still occur in our galaxy.

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