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Space Science

New Theory Links Biodiversity to the Stars 184

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the long-wait-for-results-returned dept.
eldavojohn writes "Space.com's Mystery Monday has an article proposing a hypothesis that our solar system's undulations directly affects biodiversity on earth through cosmic-ray exposure. There's data that, through the fossil record, shows us earth's biodiversity peaking again and again until a great cataclysmic period where it is greatly reduced. The theory essentially suggests that this 62 million year cycle can be attributed to how our solar system moves within the milky way galaxy which turns out to be a 64 million year cycle. It's a plausible explanation though very tough to prove, hopefully we don't have to wait around 64 million years to draw a conclusion on this hypothesis."
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New Theory Links Biodiversity to the Stars

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  • by SeanTobin (138474) * <byrdhuntr@NospAm.hotmail.com> on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:01PM (#18844529)
    Am I the only one who refreshed the chart after a few minutes to see if it updated?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Am I the only one who refreshed the chart after a few minutes to see if it updated?


      Yes.
    • by Alien54 (180860)
      64 million years, for this we will not wait.

      Enter we should, the dangerous area, in 10 millions.

      start packing now
    • by Quaoar (614366) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:14PM (#18844709)
      I hear digg is working on "Biodiversity Stack" so you never have to refresh again!
    • by arcite (661011)
      Can I take a trip to a space station the next time cosmic radiation passes by earth?

      I need to become a superhero if I am to have a chance in hell with Sue Storm...uh I mean Jessica Alba.

      Preferably I would like super strength and the power to know women's thoughts -- could come in handy! ;)

      • by hondo77 (324058)
        So you want super strength but at the cost of your sanity?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        You know, I always considered Sue Storm and Reed Richards to be an example of a perfect marriage...
              He had the ability to stretch any part of his body to great lengths (heh, heh, heh,)and after sex,
              she would disappear...
    • Yes, but do not despair. There will be others as your species' membership increases.
  • hopefully? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Lord Ender (156273) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:05PM (#18844587) Homepage

    hopefully we don't have to wait around 64 million years to draw a conclusion on this hypothesis.
    If there is some 64M year galactic cycle which causes mass extinctions, I would prefer to wait as long as possible before having to verify this first-hand.
  • How far into the cycle are we now?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jfengel (409917)
      The dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago, so theoretically, we're overdue.

      Any chance of it happening before I'm forced to go to my cousin's wedding? Cuz that's going to be a real waste of time.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Piedramente (1063240)
        Not quite.

        If you read TFA, you'll see that this particular extinction does not fit the cycle. This one is blamed on the asteroid.

        TFA says we have ~10 million years to go.
        • by jfengel (409917) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:16PM (#18844747) Homepage Journal
          So... not before August, then?

          Rats.
        • by rubycodez (864176) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:29PM (#18844885)
          but MFMC says we have five and a half years (my f-ing Mayan Calendar)
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by flyingsquid (813711)
          It doesn't really say anything about the K-T extinction one way or the other, just that two other extinctions- the end-Ordivician and the end-Permian event- do fit into this supposed cycle.

          The problem I see, however, is that the end-Permian event is too sudden to be explained by this process. The end-Permian extinction, which wiped out about 95% of all marine genera, is thought to have occurred in under 200,000 years. However, if the Earth slowly traveled into a region of increased cosmic rays, you should

          • by Geekbot (641878)
            I'm no biologist. But the article does reference that this only seems to have affected some types of sea life and not others. Also, it mentioned that cosmic rays would be linked to cloud cover and therefor cooling of the atmosphere. Perhaps this change in temperature might be significant for why some types of sea life would be more affected than others? Just a couple of ideas.
        • by nizo (81281) *
          Whew; thanks for telling me before I got together with my buddies to go looting at Best Buy tonight.
      • by eln (21727)
        No worries, if you don't want to go to your cousin's wedding, just tell him you have other plans and you'll catch his next one.
    • by Romancer (19668)
      Since the dinosaurs were wiped out around the end of the Cretaceous http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cretaceous [wikipedia.org] period and that was about the right time (65M Years ago)
      • by eln (21727) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:15PM (#18844723) Homepage
        Oh my God, they were right! The Rapture is imminent!

        Do you think I still have time to start going to church, or should I just forget about it and sin like crazy?
        • by Amouth (879122)
          the fact that you had to ask that question can mean only one thing..

          come join the rest of us in sin :)
        • You don't need to worry about it. You can wait until the Rapture, and then the proof of the existence of Jesus will be clear, so you can believe. There's going to be 7 years of Tribulation after the Rapture, but that's really no big deal if you've got proof of Jesus, if you think about it.

          Millions of people will probably die in the Tribulaton, and you're likely to be one of them. Be a hero and always try save others without regard for your own life. God loves that, plus it just about guarantees a violent and quick death. A head shot maybe. If you know that Jesus is real, then that's really nothing at all compared to the eternal bliss of heaven. Fundies like to hold up the Rapture as something truly awful, but really, it's no different than getting to heaven any other way, plus you have actual proof of Jesus because the Rapture can't be covered up.

        • by geekoid (135745)
          SIn like crazy and choose a god that doesn't care.
    • by Xeriar (456730)
      How far into the cycle are we now?

      The K-T extinction event occurred about 65.5 mya so, from all appearances, we're in it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Manchot (847225)
      We actually have mass extinctions going on now. It's off-cycle, since we're the cause.
    • by iamlucky13 (795185) on Monday April 23, 2007 @07:46PM (#18847539)
      It's hard to read off the chart, and I didn't see mention in the article, but this submission immediately brought a few things to mind:

      About 55 million years ago the earth apparently underwent a significant warming event called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum [wikipedia.org] that resulted in the extinction of 30-40% of deep sea life, and may have been equally instrumental in the emergence of mammals as the asteroid 10 million years before that killed off the dinosaurs.

      The trigger is unknown, but it is believed that warming oceans due to a natural cycle caused the sublimation of large quantities of methanes from clathrate deposits on the sea-floor. Methane, of course, is a potent greenhouse gas. The result was average ocean surface temperatures as much as 10 deg C warmer than before. The cause of the natural cycle is unknown. However, I just did some digging around, and it appears the major long term thermal cycles (based mostly on O-18/O-16 ratios in sediments, is my understanding) run 140 million years on average, but higher frequency signals definitely exist.

      Now, there has been some recent research finding that cosmic ray activity may be an influencing factor on global warming (Note: No need to revive the global warming debate...I'm just sharing my thoughts, and am not claiming anything). Basically cosmic rays appear to affect the formation of clouds in the upper atmosphere, which in turn effects solar insolation.

      It would be very interesting if this 62 million year cycle happened to coincide with the PETM extinction 55 million years ago. My thought being perhaps a cosmic ray cycle caused a typical warming cycle that happened to induce the "big burp" of methane-clathrates, which significantly magnified the warming effect.

      Actually, with some further poking around, I see this basic theory has been proposed for explaining the 140 MY cycle [wikipedia.org], minus the methane-clathrate bonus.
  • by Peter Trepan (572016) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:06PM (#18844607)

    There's data that, through the fossil record, shows us earth's biodiversity peaking again and again until a great cataclysmic period where it is greatly reduced [...] hopefully we don't have to wait around 64 million years to draw a conclusion on this hypothesis.

    Personally, I hope we do have to wait that long. :-)

  • Cool (Score:3, Funny)

    by Timesprout (579035) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:07PM (#18844625)
    I used to think God was responsible for sheep love because he made them so soft and cuddly. Now I know it's the stars it seems much more like it's cosmic destiny to create human/sheep hybrids.
  • by leather_helmet (887398) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:09PM (#18844649)
    A quick search will bring up a lot of similar ideas regarding the 'orbital rhythm' of the solar system and how it affects things like oceanic levels, radiation levels, which in turn, obviously, has an impact on biodiversity

    This general idea has been around for a very long time, I've come across it several times in various magazines like Scientific American, etc.

  • by The Lerneaen Hydra (885793) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:10PM (#18844659)
    Apparently the second derivative of biodiversity (wrt. to time) had a minima 3 years ago. Co-incidently bush got re-elected.
  • In Other News.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bossesjoe (675859) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:10PM (#18844661)
    Astrologists are freaking out across the world at the first sign of honest scientific news that shows a link between stars and life on earth, telling everyone that they knew all along the stars are what makes everything the way it is.
    • by Vellmont (569020)

      Astrologists are freaking out across the world at the first sign of honest scientific news that shows a link between stars and life on earth

      Unfortunately since the cycle is 64 million years long every person that's ever been born is the same "sign", and your horoscope doesn't change for millions of years. Astrologists are going to be out of a job if everyone has the same horoscope every day for several million years.
  • The cycle is 64M years so have to wait less than that. Maybe as little as 32M years.
  • by us7892 (655683) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:21PM (#18844801) Homepage
    Buy hybrid cars. Start conserving toilet paper. Wait, that's for global warming!

    Can we launch a few nukes at a nearby Asteroid? Oh, that's for stopping the apocolyptic end-of-the-world asteroid collision.

    What can *I do* to help stop this 64 million year cycle? There must be something I should worry about here. I'll buy some solar panels. Doh! That's for global warming again...
    • by Overly Critical Guy (663429) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:44PM (#18845055)
      Let's ask Sheryl Crow. Not only does she seem to have all the answers, but the obsessive media is all to happy to report them to everybody. One square of toilet paper per shit? Sheer genius. I suppose the toilet paper is more for wiping the shit off your fingers than anything else. But think of how you're helping the planet here, and you know it's practical because it came from a liberal pop-folk musician. They're always right about everything scientific. And every day is a winding road.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sparr0 (451780)
      Why buy a hybrid for $15k that gets 50-60 MPG and needs $10k in new batteries every ten years when you can buy a 10-year-old economy gas or diesel car for $1k that gets 40-50 MPG? Yes, I drive a 1994 Geo Metro. I get 45/49 MPG on nothing but gas. I paid $1300 for it a couple of years ago. My alternative at the time was a diesel VW Rabbit, which gets similar mileage but is harder to maintain. My next car will be the Laremo, I hope. 157 MPG FTW.
      • by Belial6 (794905)
        I can second the Geo Metro (also, Suzuki Swift) gets that kind of mileage. If they still made them, that would be my next car purchase. Yes, I have a huge truck for pulling my trailer, and hauling lumber, but for around town, and commute driving, the Geo Metro is fantastic.
      • by sconeu (64226)
        If you live in the Greater L.A. area, in particular Orange County, I can sum it up for you in two words.

        Carpool Lane.

        Certain hybrids (Prius, Civic Hybrid) are eligible for stickers which allow the driver to use the carpool lane solo.

        Given the state of certain freeways in SoCal *cough*CA-91*cough*, this is a major, MAJOR benefit.
        • by Sparr0 (451780)
          I would petition to get the sticker for my more-environmentally-friendly non-hybrid. Such arbitrary restrictions are ridiculous.
          • Chances are your 10 year old car produces more emissions than a Hummer. Pollution distribution by car age follows the 90-10 rule. 90% of emissions are produced by the oldest 10% of cars (It may have been closer to 95-5, but I don't have time to look for my course notes right now).
            • by Sparr0 (451780)
              I admit I don't take as good care of my car as I should, but I'll take that bet... I had to have my emissions tested for a tag renewal last month. HC = 88 PPM, CO = 0.38%, CO2 = 13.6%. I am too lazy to find averages or baseline data, so you tell me how I did.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      > What can *I do* to help stop this 64 million year cycle?

      Launch rockets. Just launch as much stuff as you can in the direction of motion of the Sun. That way there will be a net thrust on the Earth (and consequently the solar system through gravity) that will eventually slow down its orbit. Of course we'd end up falling into the big black hole at the center of the Galaxy as a result. But c'est la vie, you can't always get everything you want.

    • by Ucklak (755284)
      Bio-Dome.

      or you could pray if that comforts you.
    • The chart caption says fish are not affected. You might want to restart the old Soviet program that aclimated people to living in the water from birth.
      --
      For sea level and above: http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2007/01/slashdot-users -selling-solar.html [blogspot.com]
  • There's data that, through the fossil record, shows us earth's biodiversity peaking again and again until a great cataclysmic period where it is greatly reduced.
    Is this where homo sapiens come in? Are we the next cause of a great cataclysmic period?
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:24PM (#18844837)
    As for me, I'm not going to worry about it too much. Think of me as Beowulf Schaeffer not worrying too much about the galactic core exploding, and the shock wave arriving in a mere 20,000 years into the future. Nothing to lose sleep over.
  • Nemesis (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jafuser (112236) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:40PM (#18845009)
    One interesting hypothesis is is that a red or brown dwarf [wikipedia.org] in a highly elliptical orbit with our sun periodically (every ~26M years) passes through the Oort Cloud [wikipedia.org] and pulls comets into the inner solar system, causing a wave of extinctions.

    BTW, one of the physcists researching this idea, Richard A. Muller [wikipedia.org] teaches a great physics course, titled "Physics for Future Presidents" [google.com] which is available online for free on google video.
  • You laugh now (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hellfire (86129) <deviladv AT gmail DOT com> on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:53PM (#18845235) Homepage
    This is not meant to be a funny post.

    Here's an article on extinctions [wikipedia.org] in Wikipedia.

    Here's a snipet from that article about mass extinctions:

    There have been at least five mass extinctions in the history of life, and four in the last 3.5 billion years in which many species have disappeared in a relatively short period of geological time. The most recent of these, the K-T extinction 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period, is best known for having wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs, among many other species.

    In other words, don't laugh about the 62-64 million year cycle. We are due for a mass extinction, according to the fossil record. Maybe this phenomenon has something to do with it. Note that when biodiversity goes down in a species, that's not good, biologically speaking. Less diversity means less chance of a species being able to survive a catastrophic event.

    Take it for what you want, but all those people laughing about having to wait 64 million years, my point is, I don't necessarily think you have to wait all that long.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745)
      "We are due for a mass extinction,..."

      your use or the word 'Due' indicates you don't understand what the hell is going on.

      The most simplistic definition:

      On averages x has happenned every y years. That doesn't mean the x is 'due' to happen again. That this is a probalistic chance it may occure.

      OTOH, maybe every 63 million years a sentient life blooms up and spreads destructivly around the globe taking more resources then it puts back.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by marcosdumay (620877)

        You probably didn't RTFA... Its point is exactly that those fenomena may not happen by chance, but be strictly periodic.

    • However, isn't it now generally accepted that the K-T event was caused by a comet or asteroid or something slamming into the planet? If that was the case, how does the cycle bear any relation to lack of biodiversity?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Coco Lopez (886067)

      You're mixing together two biological concepts that may lead to confusion and panic in people reading your post; those being the interspecies diversity which is the diversity of species within an ecosystem, and intraspecies diversity which is genetic diversity within individuals of the same species.

      The benefits of varying levels of interspecies diversity for ecosystems is a complicated issue, and I think if you go to the literature you'll find papers that show a correlation between decreasing interspecies

    • K-T Doesn't Fit (Score:2, Informative)

      by catdriver (885089)
      According to a different article [nationalgeographic.com] on the same study, the dinosaur mass extinction at the K-T boundary doesn't fit the pattern.

      We've still got at least 10 million years before we enter the next cosmic ray cycle.
    • Re:You laugh now (Score:4, Interesting)

      by vertigoCiel (1070374) on Monday April 23, 2007 @07:26PM (#18847351)
      I'm a lot more worried about the Yellowstone Supervolcanoe [wikipedia.org] going than the stars. The thing blows, on average, every 600,000 years. Want to know the last time it erupted? 640,000 years ago. When it goes, it'll take most of Northern America with it.

      Take that, astronomical mutation-mongers!
    • by glwtta (532858)
      Note that when biodiversity goes down in a species, that's not good, biologically speaking. Less diversity means less chance of a species being able to survive a catastrophic event.

      Eh? TFA is talking about the overall biodiversity of the Earth - ie the total number of species.

      Take it for what you want, but all those people laughing about having to wait 64 million years, my point is, I don't necessarily think you have to wait all that long.

      Yeah, could be as little as 2-3 million years. The point is
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Monday April 23, 2007 @05:00PM (#18845371)
    I really doubt this hypothesis because it assumes that organisms are helpless in the face of change levels of cosmic radiation. The reality is that DNA repair mechanisms are subject to evolution (and can evolve relatively quickly in lab experiments). If background radiation rose, organisms would simply evolve more robust DNA repair mechanisms. If cosmic radiation dropped off, then organisms would simply evolve less robust DNA repair mechanisms.
    • by glwtta (532858)
      If background radiation rose, organisms would simply evolve more robust DNA repair mechanisms.

      Hmm... thereby decreasing the amount of mutation, leading to less biodiversity... wait, which side are you arguing?

      (for the record, I think TFA is a bunch of hooey)
  • for anybody.
  • "...hopefully we don't have to wait around 64 million years to draw a conclusion on this hypothesis."

    Hopefully we do have to wait!

  • Out of Phase? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SoVeryTired (967875)
    I would really like to see a larger chart than the one they give. Cycles which are 64 and 62 years long respectively will begin to shift out of phase with each other eventually, and after (I think) 32 cycles they will be 180 degrees out of phase. If the biodiversity cycles still are still the same when the two are out of phase, it would discredit the theory. Of course, this means you have to go back almost two billion years, when the only life was a kind of blue-green sludge (at best).
  • hopefully we don't have to wait around 64 million years to draw a conclusion on this hypothesis.

    Because we're going to invent a time machine, or because we're going to teleport the solar system to another part of the galaxy?
  • ... when you have humans to trash the biosphere [wikipedia.org].
  • Everyone knows the Inhibitors occupy space we pass through every 62 million years.

    Don't park near Resurgam next time. And stop trying to solve that puzzle!
  • It's the aliens!!
  • Hopefully we WILL have to wait 62 million years to test this hypothesis. The alternative is to have a cataclysmic event (of unknown type) that decreases biodiversity happen SOONER, which is bad news for most life on this planet (probably including humans, if we're still around).

    Massive die-offs tend to take larger, more complex life (like people), leaving simpler, more robust life (such as lichens, bacteria, and cockroaches) to inherit the Earth.

    Am I the only one that sees a statement like "hopefully we do

"And do you think (fop that I am) that I could be the Scarlet Pumpernickel?" -- Looney Tunes, The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950, Chuck Jones)

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