Astrobiophysics is concerned with the effect of astrophysical processes on life on Earth, as well as effects on possible life elsewhere. We distinguish it from astrobiology, which is concerned with finding extraterrestrial life. A wide variety of research areas meet here, including astrophysics, astronomy, biochemistry, evolutionary biology, paleontology, atmospheric science , and a host of others. We are funded by NASA for one current project.
Our work in this area began in 2003 with an exploration of the effect on the Earth of radiation (X-rays and gamma rays) from a gamma-ray burst in our Galaxy. From there it has expanded and diversified. Our projects fall into three main areas, which we explore below in a tree structure with links.
Two undergraduates have received $1300 research awards from the KU Honors Program for upcoming work in Astrobiophysics with Prof. Melott. They are Greg Pach, freshman physics major for work in statistical analysis of biodiversity fluctuations; and Sasha Glanville, junior atmospheric science major for work in estimating possible climate change effects due to atmospheric chemical changes from a gamma-ray burst.
We probably all have heard of solar flares, when we get a little extra dose of radiation from the Sun. There are also occasional much more powerful flares. Supernovae go off in our Galaxy, and if they happen to lie within a few tens of light-years, the effects can be disastrous. Some supernovae produce gamma-ray bursts, in which the radiation is collimated into narrow jets that can easily do serious damage from halfway across the galaxy. Estimates suggest that such events should befall the Earth, with potentially severely damaging events likely on a timescale of a few hundred million years. Our first efforts, and still the most prolific, lie in this area. In the sections below, we explore several different likely or possible kinds of radiation events and their effects on the Earth.
Gamma Ray Bursts in Our Galaxy
Effects of Cosmic Rays on the Atmosphere and Irradiation at Sea Level: Lookup Tables for Researchers
Major Solar Flares
Cosmic Rays from a Galactic Shock Wave
II. Work Related to asteroid/comet impacts as possible triggers of mass extinctions.
Our study of comets and atmospheric chemistry
Results on a 27 Myr Periodicity in Extinction and the Hypothesis of a Dark Solar Companion (Nemesis)
III. A 62-Million Year Cycle in Fossil Biodiversity
Analysis of the fossil and
Attend our informal seminar.
Opportunities exist for students to be involved in research at both the graduate and undergraduate level. We have a block of supercomputer time at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications for those computations too large for local workstations. We maintain an active net of collaborators especially including NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, in their Astroparticle Physics Laboratory and their Laboratory for Atmospheres. We have an active project with the Photobiology and Solar Radiation Lab at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. The SWIFT mission is providing new information about Gamma-ray bursts, including much-needed data on their rate in the "recent" Universe (since the Earth formed).
Our recent research publications can usually be found in the ArXiv.
Older published research is listed elsewhere.
Last Updated: June 25, 2012