Aims: Miyake et al. (2012, Nature, 486, 240, henceforth M12) recently reported, based on 14C data, an extreme cosmic event in about AD775. Using a simple model, M12 claimed that the event was too strong to be caused by a solar flare within the standard theory. This implied a new paradigm of either an impossibly strong solar flare or a very strong cosmic ray event of unknown origin that occurred around AD775. However, as we show, the strength of the event was significantly overestimated by M12. Several subsequent works have attempted to find a possible exotic source for such an event, including a giant cometary impact upon the Sun or a gamma-ray burst, but they are all based on incorrect estimates by M12. We revisit this event with analysis of new datasets and consistent theoretical modelling.
Methods: We verified the experimental result for the AD775 cosmic ray event using independent datasets including 10Be series and newly measured 14C annual data. We surveyed available historical chronicles for astronomical observations for the period around the AD770s to identify potential sightings of aurorae borealis and supernovae. We interpreted the 14C measurements using an appropriate carbon cycle model.
Results: We show that: (1) The reality of the AD775 event is confirmed by new measurements of 14C in German oak; (2) by using an inappropriate carbon cycle model, M12 strongly overestimated the event's strength; (3) the revised magnitude of the event (the global 14C production Q = (1.1 - 1.5) × 108 atoms/cm2) is consistent with different independent datasets (14C, 10Be, 36Cl) and can be associated with a strong, but not inexplicably strong, solar energetic particle event (or a sequence of events), and provides the first definite evidence for an event of this magnitude (the fluence >30 MeV was about 4.5 × 1010 cm-2) in multiple datasets; (4) this interpretation is in agreement with increased auroral activity identified in historical chronicles.
Conclusions: The results point to the likely solar origin of the event, which is now identified as the greatest solar event on a multi-millennial time scale, placing a strong observational constraint on the theory of explosive energy releases on the Sun and cool stars.