Unexpected Event Could Have Caused Mass Extinction on Earth

If you’re like most people, you may be imagining a global extinction happening due to a huge asteroid striking the Earth or nuclear warfare. Or if you’re willing to be more trendy, you can place your bet on a pandemic for finishing off the world. But neither of these dreadful scenarios could be the best way of causing a mass extinction.

A new study led by astronomy and physics professor Brian Fields from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, reveals a new hypothesis that would explain at least one mass extinction event from the Earth’s history.

A supernova could be the culprit

On average, a supernova will occur almost once every 50 years in a galaxy that’s about the same size as the Milky Way. Therefore, betting on such an event to explain a mass extinction on Earth seems fairly reasonable. The scientists involved in the new study believe that cosmic rays belonging to a supernova had caused an extinction from 359 million years ago, and it was at the boundary between the Devonian and Carboniferous periods. The researchers also believe that finding radioactive isotopes within Earth’s rock record could confirm their scenario.

Brian Fields, leader of the study, says:

Earth-based catastrophes such as large-scale volcanism and global warming can destroy the ozone layer, too, but evidence for those is inconclusive for the time interval in question,

Instead, we propose that one or more supernova explosions, about 65 light-years away from Earth, could have been responsible for the protracted loss of ozone.

Whether mass extinctions on Earth happened due to supernovae or not, what’s for sure is that there are far more destructive events in the Cosmos than we all could ever imagine.

The study paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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