Published Monday, April 1, 2013

Washburn's Thomas featured on The Weather Channel's "Forecasting the End"

Forecasting the End logo Brian Thomas, associate professor of physics and astronomy won't say he knows how the world will end. But The Weather Channel looked to him for context for an episode of its new series "Forecasting the End."

Tune in to The Weather Channel Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. for the episode featuring Thomas and others discussing how a gamma ray burst could trigger a chain reaction that causes global food shortage and other major problems.

Thomas is recognized around the world as an expert in radiation events in space, including gamma ray bursts and solar flares. Thomas, modest about his work, said: "This is a niche field. Any scientist is a specialist these days."

In the past, Thomas has been interviewed by The History Channel, a French documentary crew and others. Later this month, a film crew from Japan will be on campus to interview him about gamma ray bursts throughout history.

In the case of The Weather Channel, Thomas and two faculty from the University of Kansas were interviewed in Lawrence about "what to expect" if a massive gamma ray burst did occur.

Thomas said in an interview the impact of a massive gamma ray burst would be like many post-apocalyptic scenarios -- including the recent pop culture fascination of zombies.

"It's probably pretty, similar other than zombies going around trying to eat you," he said.

A gamma ray burst, if it occurred close enough to Earth, could obliterate the O-zone layer and cause warmer temperatures and increased direct exposure to ultraviolet light. Those factors would eventually result in food shortage over multiple years, increased incidence of skin cancers and other problems.

"People who have supplies stocked would be better off, but there is probably not one place over another you could live" to avoid effects of a massive gamma ray burst, Thomas said.

In addition to gamma ray bursts, The Weather Channel Series "Forecasting the End" includes episodes on volcanic eruption, methane gas, "rogue planets," a massive tsunami and an asteroid colliding with Earth. The episode featuring Thomas will air Thursday, April 4, at 8:30 p.m. On Cox cable, The Weather Channel is channel 2. On AT&T-Uverse, The Weather Channel is channel 225.