Weather Channel show 'Forecasting the End' will spotlight KU researchers

Fri, 03/15/2013

Contact

Brendan Lynch
KU News Service
785-864-8855

LAWRENCE — Several University of Kansas faculty members will appear on the episode “Gamma-ray Burst,” which is the second episode in the new Weather Channel series “Forecasting the End.” This episode is presently scheduled to air at 8:30 p.m. CDT on Thursday, March 21.

The KU researchers are Bruce Lieberman, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology; Adrian Melott, professor of physics and astronomy; and Brian Thomas, associate professor of physics and astronomy at Washburn University and adjunct associate professor at KU.

The series chronicles the sorts of natural disasters that occur only occasionally, but cause severe problems, including extinction of many species. Each episode of the series is devoted to one kind of catastrophic event.

The KU collaboration has focused on the kinds of events that are caused by influences from outside the Earth, particularly bursts of radiation. The researchers said that gamma-ray bursts are going off all the time — several per day in the observable universe. Such bursts accompany the death of a star, but in some unusual cases the radiation goes out in narrow jets that can cause damage to a planet thousands of light years away.

“One can show that the Earth should have been hit by such a jet multiple times during the geological past, from such a distance as to be a likely cause of a mass extinction — the sudden loss of a large fraction of the species that live on Earth,” said Melott.

Melott said mass extinctions have come on average around once per 25 million years.

The KU collaboration has advanced the idea that at least one mass extinction that occurred 445 million years ago — and one of the worst — fits the profile of what would be expected from a hit by a nearby gamma-ray burst. This involves the selective death of species that would be exposed to sunlight during part of their lives, a sudden glaciation, and a pattern of extinction that fits a burst that went off over the Earth’s south pole. The biggest effect damaging life on Earth is a great increase in ultraviolet radiation brought about by damage to the ozone layer resulting from the radiation.

The KU group has become the world leader in the analysis of possible damage to Earth by radiation bursts. In a January report on possible global disasters, the British journal Nature devoted one-third of its citations to work by the KU collaboration.

Thomas added that televising results of these kinds of scientific investigation has special value.

“TV is a great way to get science out of the lab and into peoples’ homes,” he said. “Many people who would never pick up a publication devoted to science reporting will see a show like this one.  This gives them an opportunity to see scientists talking about our work in our own words, supported by engaging graphics and a story line. It’s vitally important that the public, which supports scientific research through their tax dollars, have an idea of what it is that we as scientists do, the kinds of questions we ask, and how we go about answering those questions.”



Did you know the Spooner-Thayer Art Museum was KU’s first art museum? It opened more than 50 years before the Spencer Museum of Art that we know today. Learn more here: http://bit.ly/1oKmgXn Tags: Spencer Museum of Art #KUtbt #TBT #KUdiscoveries #Art #Museum #Gallery #VisualArt Photo credit: University Archives in Spencer Research Library.

#KUstudents : It's time for Rock-A-Hawk! Come out to the Ellsworth/McCollum parking lot. #HawkWeek #ROCKchalk
Poet offers insights to Jayhawk experience through wordplay "Welcome to KU. Where questions rest, in stacks of answers from the past. …" Listen to Topher Enneking, a spoken word poet and former KU football player, as he weaves the experience of KU and its traditions through this storytelling and wordplay performance. Learn more about KU traditions at http://www.ku.edu/about/traditions/. Welcome to KU. Where questions rest in stacks of answers from the past. Where dreams crawl out of bed And learn to walk Uphill both ways. Where freshmen stand on stilts And hang from the rafters, While the wheat waves In a fieldhouse Where the Phog rolls in Helping us to see Through the past into the future. Haunting hosts giving handouts in a heritage Too heavy to grasp til you add to it. So it may be born anew, Allowing our boots to stand in the ash of oppression’s hate But shine bright as the sun While war cries of warriors past Ring in our ears long after their battles are won. Memorials telling time, “you don’t have to stand still.” Because the top of the world Is just up that Hill. Where our natural history is an awe-struck echo Of world’s fair and equal Past, present and future, prelude and sequel. Where our flags fly above planes. Where we build in chalks that can’t be erased. Stone edifices made to last So you would walk Past their doors, down their halls And let your voice fill their room. Because only in empty silence can destruction loom. So stand tall. Wrap your arms around this crowd Sing our alma mater and sing it out loud. Let your voice sing in chorus and reach other nations Beckoning new Jayhawks to spark new collaborations Because you are the mortar that will hold these walls upright. Your future Your dreams are why Jayhawks did fight For the tradition before you Was merely prelude For what will come next now that you’re at KU.


One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
26 prestigious Rhodes Scholars — more than all other Kansas colleges combined
Nearly $290 million in financial aid annually
1 of 9 public universities with outstanding study abroad programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
46 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
—ALA
$260.5 million in externally funded research expenditures
23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times