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Is Earth's Biodiversity Linked to the Solar-System's Milky Way Orbit? Experts Say "Yes"

Phot10b04normal_21n 1999, Astronomers focusing on a star at the center of the Milky Way, measured precisely how long it takes the sun to complete one orbit (a galactic year) of our home galaxy: 226 million years.

The last time the sun was at that exact spot of its galactic orbit, dinosaurs ruled the world. The Solar System is thought to have completed about 20–25 orbits during its lifetime or 0.0008 orbit since the origin of humans.

Using a radio telescope system that measures celestial distances 500 times more accurately than the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers plotted the motion of the Milky Way and found that the sun and its family of planets were orbiting the galaxy at about 135 miles per second. That means it takes the solar system about 226 million years to orbit the Milky Way and puts the most precise value ever determined on one of the fundamental motions of the Earth and its sun.

The sun circles the Milky Way at a speed of about 486,000 miles per hour. And every object in the universe is moving apart from the other objects as the universe expands at a constantly accelerating rate.

The sun is one of about 100 billion stars in the Milky Way, one of billions of ordinary galaxies in the universe. The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, with curving arms of stars pinwheeling out from a center.The solar system is about halfway out on one of these arms and is about 26,000 light years from the center. A light year is about 6 trillion miles.

For their solar system measurement, the astronomers focused on Sagittarius A, a star discovered over two decades ago to mark the Milky Way's center. Over a 10-day period, they measured the apparent shift in position of the star against the background of stars far beyond. The apparent motion of Sagittarius A is very, very small, just one-600,000th of what could be detected with the human eye, the astronomers said.

The measurement adds supports to the idea that the Milky Way's center contains a supermassive black hole- an object, much smaller than our own solar system, contains a black hole about 2.6 million times more massive than the sun.

Earlier this year, a team of researchers at the University of Kansas came up with an out-of-this-world explanation for the phenomenon of mass extinctions on Earth that 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.

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.

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.

Butterfly-3 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 Casey Kazan.

Editor's Note:

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Thank you for finally getting right! Global warming ,climate change whatever you want to call it. Humans are not directly reponsible for it. That doesn't mean we can have Deepwater Horizon every year, or, that we are not slowly killing off many species which will ultimatly mean our own demise. The notion that we can control weather is far beyond the capacity of our selfish and weak minds

Two things of note:

First, kudos to the editor/writer of this piece for asking a question in the title...not making a statement.

Second, nice to see yet another potential source for climate change on a normally 'man vs. earth' site.

If an up-down cycle is 64 million years and a full revolution of the galaxy is 226 million, there should then be an inner disk of stars wobbling to the extent that our solar system takes two dips for each revolution.

I've always been one to think that our climate has more to do with us being on big rock, floating around a giant ball of nuclear stoked fire than by the emission of greenhouse gases. With that said, I like clean air, oceans and forests. Being a good steward of the earth does not make a person a tree-hugger, or a liberal, it makes them rational.

Agreed. There are definately scenarios where man has a direct and negative impact on the environment ie; the BP spill in the gulf. From every possible angle, it can be proven this disaster is man-made.

My concerns arise when we start applying the same credit to scientific assumptions as we do scientific proofs. I am perfectly willing to believe my lawn mower exhaust is killing baby seals by the hundreds...but only when you can prove it beyond any doubt. You don't get my guilt or my money until you follow the same basic precepts as any court of law in the US.

Billions (soon trillions) of dollars and astronomical resources are being devoted to a conceptual problem that appears to have the best sales pitch at the current time.

Maybe I was too naive for too long but there once was a time when science was the last bastion of truth...very few hidden agendas or behind-the-door dealings. I don't mean to criticize the entire scientific community...for the most part I believe they are still performing literal miracles almost daily. But I personally have no doubt there are far more car salesmen cum scientific researchers than ever before.

No wonder they're getting rid of the shuttle program. Our space SUV's are causing man made Galactic Change!!

Do the math. If the biodiversity cycle is 62 million years, then the Permian extinction (250 million years ago) and the Ordovician extinction (450 million years ago) could NOT have been at peaks of the cycle. These were 200 million years apart. A 62 million year cycle would be off by 14 million years. That's almost 23%.

Actually, the 64 million year cycle they are trying to match it to would be a better fit. That would only be off by 8 million years, and only 12%.

so what is the speed of our planet from an fix point in this universe?

i gotta take a shit brb...

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Isn't this just saying that Astrology has some basis?

Isn't this just saying that Astrology has some basis?

THe BIG picture makes humans so puny and fragile, like ashes in the wind. Is that why we are so dizzy and confused? Will humans make it to Class 3 Dyson civilizations? Probably not ... without help.

I read similar report a few years ago, however it suggested that when "our star" moves up and down through galactic plane it at some point is nearer to the "other stars", which slightly perturbs the gravitational field within our solar system which in turn may disturb object in the kiuper belt changing there orbit enough to increase the chance of the earth gettting hit by a meteor or astroid slightly after every cycle. This type of suggestion is difficult to prove but has some interesting ideas. This article discribes an effect of going through the shockwave on the northern side of the milky way, which would most likely not effect life on earth instantly but depending on what type of animals are on earth at the time of going though the "shockwave" etc...so a 28% deviation may not be that innacurate. It has also been suggested that increases and decreases in dust throughout the milky way effect our planet. As for the shockwave, the amount dust and gas outside of our galaxy is probably less significant ? Also the distance to this "shockwave" is most likely very far away from our solar system even when we are on the norhern side of the galaxy ? I guess im not sure as to what this "shockwave" is interacting with that would lead to significant increase in cosmic rays for example. Unless the milky way is passing through a large dust cloud a year or so before we are on the northen side which we may have to wait 1 billion years for I guess it may be difficult to recreate a similar event :P However very intersting article!

"so what is the speed of our planet from an fix point in this universe?

Posted by: alin | June 01, 2010 at 04:35 PM"

There is no such thing as a fixed point in space. All positions are relative.

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