History, Objectives, and Financial Needs

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The Starburst Foundation:
History, Objectives, and Financial Needs

Question-Answer Interview of Paul LaViolette,
Ph.D., Director of the Starburst Foundation

January 5, 1988

Steve: When did you first get the idea for the Starburst Foundation?

Paul LaViolette: The Starburst Foundation is a scientific research institute I founded in January of 1984. Its main purpose is to investigate the Galactic superwave phenomenon.

Steve: What are Galactic superwaves, and why do they affect us?

Paul: Galactic superwaves are intense volleys of cosmic rays emitted from the center of our Galaxy. We live in a spiral galaxy, the Milky Way. Our Sun is one of many stars circling around this spiral's hub, the Galactic Center. Astronomers have found that, at this center, there is an unusually massive celestial body that from time to time can explosively emit tremendous amounts of energy. These recurrent explosions (or outbursts) throw out intense barrages of cosmic rays accompanied by electromagnetic radiation such as gamma rays, X-rays, light waves and radio waves. This radiation blizzard, called a "Galactic superwave," travels radially outward eventually reaching the outer part of our Galaxy where we reside.

Superwaves can arrive very unexpectedly. You can't see them coming because they travel towards us at the speed of light. Upon reaching our Solar System a superwave could cause a variety of effects. It could inject cosmic dust into the planetary environs, thereby altering the Earth's climate. Also the electromagnetic wave radiation it carried might at times have the character of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) similar to that generated by the aerial detonation of a nuclear device. It could create radio and television interference and might knock out satellite telephone conversations by permanently damaging satellite equipment. High-voltage surges picked up on telephone wires and power lines could damage electrical equipment including home electrical and telephone appliances that happened to be plugged into these networks. There could also be dangers to airplanes which happened to be flying during such an episode.

Also there is the possibility that a superwave "EMP" signal might be misconstrued as an aerial nuclear explosion. If military personnel didn't realize that the effects were being produced by an astronomical phenomenon, they might think their country was being attacked and issue orders to launch their missiles. With communication systems knocked out, no one would be able to notify them that their country was not under attack.

Then there may be cause to be concerned about the superwave cosmic rays themselves. If the initial outburst were sufficiently intense, this particle radiation could constitute a substantial health hazard.

The Earth's polar ice sheets preserve a record of past superwave episodes. This can be seen by analyzing the levels of beryllium-10 along the length of the polar ice core record. This beryllium isotope is a good indicator of superwave intensity since it is produced in the Earth's atmosphere through cosmic ray bombardment. The polar record shows several peaks of cosmic ray activity, the most recent of which occurred about 12 - 16 thousand years ago. Additional evidence indicating that our Solar System may periodically be impacted by a forceful cosmic ray wind comes from my discovery that ice age polar ice on some occasions contains very high concentrations of cosmic dust, several orders of magnitude greater than are found in snow or ice from the present interglacial. Prior to this discovery, I had predicted that passing superwaves would have propelled dust into the Solar System and that these dust incursions may have been a principal cause of the recurring sequence of ice ages. This is historically a key discovery because it is the first time that anyone had measured cosmic dust levels for the ice age period.

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