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Earth Space

How Nearby Supernovae Affected Life On Earth 109

Posted by Soulskill
from the made-of-star-stuff dept.
sycodon writes with news of research into how nearby supernovae affected the development of life on Earth. "[Professor Henrik Svensmark] found that the changing frequency of nearby supernovae seems to have strongly shaped the conditions for life on Earth. Whenever the Sun and its planets have visited regions of enhanced star formation in the Milky Way Galaxy, where exploding stars are most common, life has prospered. Prof. Svensmark remarks in the paper, "The biosphere seems to contain a reflection of the sky, in that the evolution of life mirrors the evolution of the Galaxy.' ... The data also support the idea of a long-term link between cosmic rays and climate, with these climatic changes underlying the biological effects. And compared with the temperature variations seen on short timescales as a consequence of the Sun's influence on the influx of cosmic rays, the heating and cooling of the Earth due to cosmic rays varying with the prevailing supernova rate have been far larger.""
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How Nearby Supernovae Affected Life On Earth

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  • Everything (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SJHillman (1966756) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @05:04PM (#39788371)

    Considering the majority of matter on the planet, including life, is from the remnants of a supernova, I'd say it helped quite a lot.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Aww...it didn't happen. See what you've done?"

  • >Whenever the Sun and its planets have visited regions of enhanced star formation in the Milky Way Galaxy, where exploding stars are most common, life has prospered.

    Nothing like repeated blasts of high-energy gamma radiation to stir things up.

  • Trying to make sense of this:

    And compared with the temperature variations seen on short timescales as a consequence of the Sun's influence on the influx of cosmic rays, the heating and cooling of the Earth due to cosmic rays varying with the prevailing supernova rate have been far larger

    Is this a correct translation?

    "The influence of supernovae on cosmic rays is greater than the sun's influence on the cosmic rays"

    • I have no idea. That sentence made absolutely no sense to me. I think this is right up there in terms of "WTF does slashdot have editors for?" My best guess is that it's supposed to mean "because the sun drags the earth through areas that have significant differences in the amount of cosmic rays in them, the total effect of cosmic rays on global temperatures has been larger than previously thought". But again, it's a guess that's more based on the notion that cosmic rays impact global temperatures rather th

    • by geekoid (135745)

      The correct translation from this guy would be:
      "I can't actually show that it's the cause of climate warming, so I'll put in a confusing sentence to make it seem that way."
      He compares the climate change with we are currently experiencing to things that take a much longer time, and things that aren't happening at the rate he referrers to 500 million years ago.
      If the Earth was currently being bombarded at the rate necessary for his claim, we would be seeing extinction events.

      Classic denier.

      Here is a break dow

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I don't think he's a "Classic denier." Most deniers' skepticism is based on cognitive-biased faith - this guy seems to have actually done considerable work to support his cognitive bias.

      • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @06:12PM (#39789039)

        Classic politically motivated Slashdot climate post.

        The guy didn't say anything about current warming, carbon dioxide, human activities or anything else. He's saying that cosmic rays influence climate (they do), short term variation due to the sun's magnetic field have a fairly small effect (the opposite of the words you're trying to put in his mouth) and a bunch of supernovae going off nearby has a larger effect (not hard to believe).

        • "The guy didn't say anything about current warming, carbon dioxide, human activities or anything else."

          Well, perhaps not in this article. Thanks to google, it's not hard to find where Henrik Svensmark's climate change chips lie. Here's something to get you started, complete with a potent musical background:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1qGOUIRac0 [youtube.com]

          • by ceoyoyo (59147)

            Going with the ad hominem argument then?

            • No, this was an example of the "rebutting error with verifiable fact" technique.

              That URL (or a simple google search) reveals that the guy has said quite a bit about current warming and carbon dioxide.

              • by ceoyoyo (59147)

                I'm not sure if you noticed, but this thread is about a particular excerpt from the story current under discussion.

          • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

            by ArcherB (796902)

            "The guy didn't say anything about current warming, carbon dioxide, human activities or anything else."

            Well, perhaps not in this article. Thanks to google, it's not hard to find where Henrik Svensmark's climate change chips lie. Here's something to get you started, complete with a potent musical background:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1qGOUIRac0 [youtube.com]

            So you are saying he's not a scientist? I have to ask because we are all talking like he is a scientist, but, as we all know, there is a consensus among all scientists that global warming is real and caused by SUV's, and Republicans. Only ignorant hicks, Bible thumpers, and creationist believe otherwise.

            So, which one is this guy?

    • by sycodon (149926)

      SoulSkill complete rewrote my submissions, which I admit I completely plagiarized from here, [wordpress.com] which is a good summary of the very technical paper.

      The author does take pot shots at AGW at the end so perhaps SoulSkill was looking to avoid a flame war that would completely drown out the very interesting paper.

      Of course, now that posted the link, it's probably Flame On for many.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        It doesn't help that Svensmark has been shown to be wrong. Of course he ignores the data of the last few decades.

        His finding have no bearing on Climate Change we are experiencing, and there are many large Cosmic ray increase that we know of that caused no effect.

        • by sycodon (149926)

          I'm not going to tell you I understand this paper. I'll thank you to not insult the rest of us by suggesting that you do.

          If you believe in Science at all, you'd at least read interpretations of his paper as they come out an keep an open mind.

          But if you want to just be some AGW tribalist, go right ahead.

          • "If you believe in Science"

            Not only does my tribe "believe in Science", we also fight for peace and fornicate for chastity.

            But our reality distortion does not stretch so far as betting some third party lipstick yet to come will make this scientific spam into Miss Universe.

          • by Anonymous Coward
            If you're stupid, and easily insulted perhaps Slashdot is not the best place to spend your time.
            On the other hand, your ability to quickly switch modes into an overbearing moron, directing people how to think was impressive.
            Carry on.
      • Thanks for the link. Makes a whole bunch more sense than TFS. Whether or not it's real is quite another thing - it's going to take a while to digest it and work through the issues he presents. I'm presuming that his previous research concerning the variation in biodiversity is real or at least plausible. Any comments?

        Soulskill: Bad boy! No Doritos for a week.

    • by finity (535067)
      My interpretation was, "temperature variations caused by cosmic rays are influenced more by supernovae than by the Sun." I think it's similar to yours, but that the Sun and supernovae are causing cosmic rays to affect Earth's temperature. It probably infers what you're saying too.
    • by tomhath (637240)
      I take that to mean the Sun's variations are short duration and on average don't tend to have the same long term effect as the Solar System passing near the remnants of a supernova, which takes thousands of years and has a larger, cumulative effect on the atmosphere.
  • correlate with supernovae rate? This is a interesting analysis and paper, although I think it is hard to draw the distinction when only two (or three, if you count bacteria over all time) clades have actually 'dominated' the earth, reptiles and mammals. I don't know enough about classification to also include the oceans, but it is my understanding that they contain relatively low biomass other than microorganisms. I guess you could consider some sort of insect or arthropod for both, but those have dominated
    • What the paper is hinging on seems to be the statement [wordpress.com] that

      the changing rates of supernova explosions relatively close to the Earth have strongly influenced the biodiversity of marine invertebrate animals, from trilobites of ancient times to lobsters of today.

      With the assumption that other clades follow suite (the several mass extinctions have involved virtually all life forms, some more than others but a significant change in all genera).

      Further, the hypothesized effect from supernovae is also coincident with changes in uptake of Carbon 13 (as a proxy for photosynthesis).

      Fairly strong correlates if the underlying assumptions are true.

  • life creating kaboom?

  • For those who understand plasma universe theory already, this makes perfect sense. The energy output of the sun is tied to the electric field strength of the surrounding galactic neighborhood, which fluctuates over time. The energy output of the sun has huge impacts on historical biodiversity and how well the biosphere thrives. Supernovae are events caused (at least in part) by stars exceeding their surface output capacity and blowing off their outer charged layer or dividing into smaller stars, which happe
    • by Black Parrot (19622) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @05:49PM (#39788755)

      The energy output of the sun is tied to the electric field strength of the surrounding galactic neighborhood, which fluctuates over time.

      Indeed. I'm working on a unification for Electric Universe Theory and Time Cube Theory, which, if I can pull it off, should make me the Crank of the Century.

      • by Jaborandy (96182)
        Those younger than forty will probably live to see the fall of the Big Bang Theory.

        Remember this mocking when that time comes. You'll have plenty of company in your camp of people who didn't see it coming, but you'll forever lose your geek cred when you find that you've been the flat-earther, mocking the true scientists who based their theories on observations, not mathematical models.
        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          Possibly, but it's certainly not going to be the electric universe "theory" that replaces it.

        • by Black Parrot (19622) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @06:36PM (#39789285)

          Let's see, on the one hand I have the opinion that almost every cosmologist holds, and the other I have the opinion of a Slashdotter.

          I'm really torn on this one.

          • Well, i for one, will at least wait to see his final mod score before i take sides!
            although, you do have a lower UID then him
            now I am torn.
            • Well, i for one, will at least wait to see his final mod score before i take sides!
              although, you do have a lower UID then him
              now I am torn.

              It's a well-known fact that you can use the ratio of two people's UIDs to determine the probability of who's right.

          • by ceoyoyo (59147)

            Hey, be fair. It's a Slashdotter backed up by a half dozen or so cranks.

        • by Raenex (947668)

          Those younger than forty will probably live to see the fall of the Big Bang Theory.

          Even if it turns out that many phenomena have electric-plasma origins, I don't think the most basic premise of the big bang is going to go away. Red-shifted galaxies provide strong evidence that galaxies have been moving away, and if you rewind the process you're left with a big bang.

          • Unless our understanding of the red-shift incorrect as well...

          • by Jaborandy (96182)
            Yeah, I'm not convinced that's accurate. It's a logic thing.
            We know:
            1 - Red shift is observed in proportion to distance
            2 - Relative velocity (away from us) causes red shift

            Based on these two facts, it cannot be proven that relative velocity depends on distance. That's why it's just a theory.

            Relative motion is one possible cause of the observed red shift, but that does not mean it is the only possible cause. I think it is more likely that light loses energy in some
        • Those younger than forty will probably live to see the fall of the Big Bang Theory.

          Well, sure. If you look at the list of longest-running TV shows by category [wikipedia.org], it looks like Meet The Press, which started in 1947, has been on the longest. If The Big Bang Theory were to run for the same length of time, someone who's 40 now would have to live to be just over 100 to see it end its run. That's plausible, assuming humanity doesn't do something to wipe itself out in the meantime. But somehow I don't think it's going to run for 60+ years.

      • by Shotgun (30919)

        Electric Universe?!! I wouldn't even do Electric Avenue!

  • In the new work, the diversity of life over the last 500 million years seems remarkably well explained by tectonics affecting the sea-level together with variations in the supernova rate, and virtually nothing else.

    I'm guessing that if he were to factor in the rate of meteor impacts, the beating of butterfly wings would turn out to be a driver of evolution too.

  • When these things go off, wise men and kings go hunting for babies to garnish with bling.
  • by Kergan (780543) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @06:27PM (#39789195)

    Svensmark is the scientist whose controversial ideas ultimately led CERN to conduct its CLOUD experiment. The gist of his idea was: cosmic particle presence (more clouds, due to more substrate) and solar magnetic activity (less clouds, due to repelled particles) are amongst the driving factors --perhaps the primary one-- of climate volatility on Earth, because they control overall cloud cover.

    CERN's conclusion? Svensmark was basically spot on with respect to cloud formation.

    Make no mistake here. Clouds excersice materially high positive and negative feedback loops on climate. Whether it is overwhelmingly superior or merely predominant to carbon dioxide et al is the only point of contention.

    In light of this, is any Slashdot reader surprised that proximity of supernovae, aka amount of cosmic particles, accepting the evidence that the latter have an impact on cloud cover and thus on climate, might have an impact on how life in thriving on Earth?

  • Oh noes! Human CO2 causes supernovas!!! I'm super cereal!

    (yes, yes, mod me troll/flamebait)

  • According to the graphs, we are currently on an uptick. Does that mean I'll grow a second wanker?

  • by hackus (159037) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @07:14PM (#39789673) Homepage

    Effective immediately Al Gore is announcing a SuperNova Credits Exchange!

    Taxes paid by every man women and child will stop the SuperNova's climate change effects!

    It is illegal not to pay.

    So you better not cheat on your SuperNova taxes or we will take away your Passport.

    Oh yeah, we got ya covered.

    -Hack

  • If research scientists would stop cherry picking their data it would probably help the rest of us. Using the same astronomical model - the earth passing through the galactic plane - has also been used to explain most of the mass extinction events on the planet.
    Sometimes specialization causes worse effects than Adam Smith could have foreseen.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Try again. The solar system's passes through the galactic plane do not line up with mass extinction events very well. And what do you mean "the same astronomical model?" The solar system being in a star forming region and passing through the galactic plane are not the same thing.

  • The article links to dtu.dk which contains an article called "The Milky Way Shaped Life on Earth" [space.dtu.dk] . That article includes a quote that I found suspiciously unscientific:

    The odds are 10,000 to 1 against this unexpected link between cosmic rays and the variable state of the biosphere being just a coincidence, and it offers a new perspective on the connection between the evolution of the Milky Way and the entire history of life over the last 4 billion years,’ Dr Svensmark comments.

    So I Googled it and found this article [ossfoundation.us] containing a refutation and further examples of over-reaching. I leave it to /. to comment on the accuracy of these links.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      What do you find unscientific about that quote?

      The "refutation" you link to is refuting Svensmark's claims about anthropogenic global warming. The current article is about climate change that happened a long time before there were humans, thus is completely unrelated to anthropogenic global warming. If you're wondering, Svensmark's hypothesis about cosmic rays and clouds (and thus climate) have held up pretty well in both his own studies and independent studies by groups including some at CERN. I think h

  • http://www.ann-geophys.net/30/9/2012/angeo-30-9-2012.pdf [ann-geophys.net]

    Ann. Geophys., 30, 9–19, 2012
    www.ann-geophys.net/30/9/2012/
    doi:10.5194/angeo-30-9-2012

    Cosmic rays and space weather: effects on global climate change

  • Regions with more radiation generate more mutations, allowing for faster exploring of the evolutionary gradient descent space. Interesting observation that this influence is not static.

    BTW this is similar to "simulated annealing", a technique to help an organism trapped in a local minimum escape the well so it can find a deeper one.

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