Researchers suggest a supernova triggered the Late Devonian mass extinction

The Cassiopeia A supernova which left this remnant behind occurred about 11,000 light years away—much too far to pose a significant threat—and its wavefront likely reached Earth about 300 years ago.

Enlarge / The Cassiopeia A supernova which left this remnant behind occurred about 11,000 mild years away—a lot too far to pose a major menace—and its wavefront doubtless reached Earth about 300 years in the past. (credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A paper launched this week by College of Illinois Urbana-Champaign astronomy and physics professor Brian Fields makes a case for distant supernovae as a reason behind a previous mass extinction occasion—particularly, the Hangenberg occasion, which marks the boundary between the Devonian and Carboniferous durations. Fields has proposed this kind of factor earlier than, and each this and his earlier piece are fascinating workout routines of “what-if.” Every fashions the consequences a supernova might have on Earth’s biosphere, and the way we would go in search of proof that it occurred.

It is necessary to grasp, nevertheless, that neither of those papers must be taken as indications that there may be proof that the occasions referenced have been attributable to a supernova, or as consultant of any basic scientific consensus to that impact. They’re merely intriguing proposals, and so they point out what kind of proof we must always search for.

Existential threats

For those who say “mass extinction” and “house” in the identical sentence, the very first thing on most peoples’ minds is an asteroid impression with the Earth—even when dinosaur followers consider the Chicxulub crater, and popular culture followers assume as an alternative of flicks akin to Deep Impression or Armageddon.

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