The Milky Way Enigma -How Galactic Forces May Control Life on Earth

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July 19, 2007

The Milky Way Enigma -How Galactic Forces May Control Life on Earth

Milky_way_enigma Horoscope enthusiasts will be happy to hear that a grand cosmic force does indeed seem to be responsible for controlling the direction of all life on Earth. However, this grand cosmic cycle has more to do with extinction than finding a tall, handsome stranger.

Earlier this year, research revealed that the rise and fall of species on Earth seems to be driven by the undulating motions of our solar system as it travels through the Milky Way. Some scientists believe that this cosmic force may offer the answer to some of the biggest questions in our Earth’s biological history—especially where evolution has fallen short.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that marine fossil records show that biodiversity increases and decreases based on a 62-million-year cycle. At least two of the Earth's great mass extinctions-the Permian extinction 250 million years ago and the Ordovician extinction about 450 million years ago-correspond with peaks of this cycle, which can't be explained by evolutionary theory.

Earlier this year, a team of researchers at the University of Kansas came up with an out-of-this-world explanation for the phenomenon. Their idea hinges upon the fact that stars move through space and sometimes rush headlong through galaxies, or approach closely enough to cause a brief cosmic tryst.

Our own star moves toward and away from the Milky Way's center, and also up and down through the galactic plane. One complete up-and-down cycle takes 64 million years- suspiciously close to the Earth's biodiversity cycle.

Once the researchers independently confirmed the biodiversity cycle, they then proposed a novel mechanism whereby which the Sun's galactic travels is causing it.

It’s no secret that the Milky Way is being gravitationally pulled toward a massive cluster of galaxies, called the Virgo Cluster, which is located about 50 million light years away. Adrian Melott and his colleague Mikhail Medvedev, speculate that as the Milky Way rushes towards the Virgo Cluster, it generates a so-called bow shock in front of it that is similar to the shock wave created by a supersonic jet.

"Our solar system has a shock wave around it, and it produces a good quantity of the cosmic rays that hit the Earth. Why shouldn't the galaxy have a shock wave, too?" Melott asks.

The galactic bow shock is only present on the north side of the Milky Way's galactic plane, because that is the side facing the Virgo Cluster as it moves through space, and it would cause superheated gas and cosmic rays to stream behind it, the researchers say. Normally, our galaxy's magnetic field shields our solar system from this "galactic wind." But every 64 million years, the solar system's cyclical travels take it above the galactic plane.

"When we emerge out of the disk, we have less protection, so we become exposed to many more cosmic rays," Melott has said.

The boost in cosmic-ray exposure may have a direct effect on Earth's organisms, according to paleontologist Bruce Lieberman. The radiation would lead to higher rates of genetic mutations in organisms or interfere with their ability to repair DNA damage. In this way, the process could lead to new species while killing off others.

Cosmic rays are also associated with increased cloud cover, which could cool the planet by blocking out more of the Sun's rays. They also interact with molecules in the atmosphere to create nitrogen oxide, a gas that eats away at our planet's ozone layer, which protects us from the Sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.

Richard Muller, one of the UC Berkeley physicists who co-discovered the cycle, said Melott and his colleagues have come up with a plausible galactic explanation for the biodiversity cycle.

If future studies confirm the galaxy-biodiversity link, it would force scientists to broaden their ideas about what can influence life on Earth. "Maybe it's not just the climate and the tectonic events on Earth," Lieberman said. "Maybe we have to start thinking more about the extraterrestrial environment as well."

Posted by Rebecca Sato

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Comments

wow amazing

The Berkeley team seems to support work reported by researchers in Kansas in 2006: "Do extragalactic cosmic rays induce cycles in fossil diversity"[arXiv:astro-ph/0602092 v2 8 Apr 2006] revised in [arXiv:astro-ph/0602092v3 9 Apr 2007]. It would be nice to have a reference to their paper.

Fascinating, BUT -- why isn't this tied in with the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012, which apparently predicts (at least according to C. Callehan) that we're about to traverse the galactic equator? Some think humans are about to take a quantum leap in evolution. Might this support that idea?

Quote, "At least two of the Earth's great mass extinctions-the Permian extinction 250 million years ago and the Ordovician extinction about 450 million years ago-correspond with peaks of this cycle" Really! You are going to make a galactic sized prediction on a sample size of 2. There have been other mass extinctions of course. If they do not align with the cycle then what about your premise based on your sample size of 2?

Someone mentioned about the Mayan calendar and the end of the Earth in 2012. If the Mayan's were so great at making predictions about the end of civilizations, how come they didn't foresee the end of their own civilization? The calendar stopped at 2012 because maybe that seemed like a good place to end the story. Maybe its just a random date? My theory is as plausible as any of them out there today.
There does seem to be a periodicity in regards to mass extinctions. We hear about Gamma Burst, Death Stars and now Cosmic Rays. The truth is no one knows for sure, but the theory of the week is what sells magazines, books and sells tickets on the lecture circuit. If we knew how we were going to die 64 Million years from now, would that make life easier for us.

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Who said the Mayan didn't forsee the end of their Civilisation.Will had it made easier or harder for them ,knowing they wasn't driven by the judeo-christian concept of life and death or even business.Maybe their concept,like mine get different rewards...not green,Have you ever seen ten witness reporting an accident?Their all say the truth according o their place in the event.But just 1 or two will go on TV.

I don't think the Mayan Calendar actually ends in 2012, it starts over. If I remember right the Mayan Calendar is several dials and near the end of 2012 Every dial starts over and it is back to day 1.

I am not sure how that correlates to the end of he world but I think if it as their own version of the Y2K bug.

I find this to be a very interesting article if it pans out. But I agree with the previous comment on the sample size of 2. I hope those were the big examples worth mentioning and not the entire sample pool.

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