Speciation Driven By Cosmic Cycles?
Scientists at UC Berkeley found that biodiversity in the fossil record seems to wax and wane according to a 62 million year cycle. Now, University of Kansas researchers theorize that the Earth's travels through the galactic plane may be the cause.
Our Sun moves closer and further from the center of our galaxy, as well as up and down through the galactic plane. The timing? A cycle of about 64 million years - very close.
Adrian Melott and his colleague Mikhail Medvedev, both KU researchers, speculate that as the Milky Way hurdles 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 said.
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 told SPACE.com.
Science fiction fans are gloating, though, because this kind of big picture thinking is right up their alley. In Poul Anderson's classic 1954 novel Brain Wave, everyone on Earth suddenly gains a hundred IQ points. Even animals acquire human-like intelligence. The explanation?
"...we're pretty well agreed here at the Institute that Dr. Corinth's theory is the right one. This postulates a force-field of partly electromagnetic character, generated by gyromagnetic action within atomic nuclei near the center of the galaxy. It radiates outward in a cone which, by the time it has reached our section of space, is many lightyears across. Its effect has been to inhibit certain electromagnetic and electrochemical processes, among with the functioning of certain types of neurones is prominent. We suppose that the Solar System, in tis orbit around the galactic center, entered this force-field many millions of years ago - hardly later than the Cretaceous. Doubtless many species of that time died out. However, life as a whole survived - adapted nervous systems compensated for the inhibiting force by becoming that much more efficient...
The general effect of the world's coming out of the inhibitor field was, of course, a sudden zooming of intelligence in every life form possessing a brain. Suddenly the damping force to which every living organism was adjusted, was gone."
If you like big-picture astrophysics with a science-fictional twist, see
Read more at Space.com.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/24/2007)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 1 )
Related News Stories -
Elon Musk Tweets Versions Of Clarke's Operation Cleanup
'Fortunately, the old orbital forts were superbly equipped for this task.' - Arthur C. Clarke, 1978.
Espresso Telescope Searches For Exoplanets
'These instruments were the wonderful ones our astronomers had perfected.' - Edmond Hamilton, 1936.
Manned Maneuvering Unit From 1984
'The glittering little rocket bolted to the black iron behind him.' - Jack Williamson, 1933.
Astronaut Gets Younger In Space
'So what we're looking for now is not an antibiotic - an anti-life drug - but an anti-agathic, an anti-death drug...' - James Blish, 1957.
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
IBM's Grain Of Sand Computer
'Our ancestors... thought to make the very sand beneath their feet intelligent...'
Liquid Metal Shape-Changing 'Soft Robotics'
'A mimetic poly-alloy... 'What the hell does that mean?''
The Hammock Caravan And Italo Calvino's Octavia
'Now I will tell you how Octavia, the spider-web city, is made.'
Super-Resolution Microscopy Provides '4D' Views
View the magnified interior of living cells.
Have I Seen The Tesla Roadster Story Before?
'Only it wasn't a vessel. It was an automobile...'
Watch 'Do You Trust This Computer' For Free Today
Thanks for making this available, Elon.
Self-Driving Car Ticketed
This just missed making my day.
Elon Musk Tweets Versions Of Clarke's Operation Cleanup
'Fortunately, the old orbital forts were superbly equipped for this task.'
Burner Generates Temporary Phone Numbers
'Interesting phone system he's got, by the way...'
Walmart’s Autonomous Robot Bees
Everyone loves bees.
EA Created AI That Taught Itself To Play Battlefield
Harmless fun for computer scientists.
Is Teleportation A Death Sentence?
'A long trail of dead, he thought, left across the stars...'
New Brain Scanner Lets You Move Around
'In Bob Arctor's living room his thousand dollar custom-quality cephscope crafted by Altec...'
Can An Entire Brain Be Simulated In A Computer?
'The miles of relays and photocells had given way to the spongy globe of platinum iridium about the size of the human brain.'
Physicists Try To Turn Light Into Matter
If E=mc squared, then... m=E/c squared!
Save Your Brain's Connectome, Upload Yourself Elsewhere
'You've got remote storage. How regular is the update?'
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories