Surprising link uncovered between life on Earth and distant supernovae

New research has discovered how supernovae prevalence could impact climate conditions on Earth, setting the stage for life.

Published Jan 7, 2022 4:00 AM CST   |   Updated Tue, Feb 1 2022 11:28 PM CST
1 minute & 16 seconds read time

A new article examining the correlation was published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Surprising link uncovered between life on Earth and distant supernovae 01 |

A correlation was found between the fraction of organic matter found buried in sediments across Earth with changes in the occurrence of nearby exploding stars, known as supernovae. The article, authored by senior researcher Dr. Henrik Svensmark of DTU Space, explains a potential cause for the observed correlation is the influence of supernovae on Earth's climate.

More supernovae result in cold climates with significant temperature differences between the poles and the equator, leading to strong winds and ocean mixing, which helps increase nutrient concentrations in biological systems, increasing their productivity and leaving more biological material in sediment with time. Fewer supernovae result in warmer climates with weaker winds and less ocean mixing, decreasing nutrient supplies, lower bioproductivity, and, therefore, less organic matter found in sediment.

"A fascinating consequence is that moving organic matter to sediments is indirectly the source of oxygen. Photosynthesis produces oxygen and sugar from light, water and CO2. However, if organic material is not moved into sediments, oxygen and organic matter become CO2 and water. The burial of organic material prevents this reverse reaction. Therefore, supernovae indirectly control oxygen production, and oxygen is the foundation of all complex life," said Svensmark.

"The new evidence points to an extraordinary interconnection between life on Earth and supernovae, mediated by the effect of cosmic rays on clouds and climate. When heavy stars explode, they produce cosmic rays made of elementary particles with enormous energies. Cosmic rays travel to our solar system, and some end their journey by colliding with Earth's atmosphere. Here, they are responsible for ionizing the atmosphere," Svensmark continued.

You can read more from the article here.

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