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Changes in Earth's Orbit Linked to Extinctions 311

Posted by timothy
from the avoid-the-large-yellow-barbeque dept.
Josh Fink writes "A group of Dutch Scientists have recently released a study stating that they have found that changes in Earth's orbit around the sun are linked to mammal extinctions. From the article: '"Extinctions in rodent species occur in pulses which are spaced by intervals controlled by astronomical variations and their effects on climate change..." The cycles are associated with lower temperatures, changes in precipitation, habitats, vegetation and food availability which are the main factors influencing the extinction peaks, the study published in the journal Nature said.' So on top of worrying about global warming, it seems we should also worry about the physics that govern the orbit of Earth around the sun. Too bad we don't have a way of keeping the Earth in the same orbit/on the same axis of rotation."
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Changes in Earth's Orbit Linked to Extinctions

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  • We did... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Trailer Trash (60756) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:16AM (#16407867) Homepage
    Too bad we don't have a way of keeping the Earth in the same orbit/on the same axis of rotation.

    We did until George Bush ordered it to be defunded.

  • BTW (Score:2, Informative)

    before anyone starts getting all 'see, all you global-warming believers, this is a perfectly rational natural explanation for the current warming trend,' the periods of these natural cycles are on the order of 1.2 and 2.4 million years. not exactly fast-acting.
    • Re:BTW (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:28AM (#16408055) Journal
      It doesn't account for the massive extinctions such as the Permian. The arrangement of the continents also very likely either exacerbates or minimizes the effects of orbital variations. They also only studied a specific region in Spain (not to mention rodents in particular) which may have been especially prone to subtle climate changes. They need to study a wider geographic and species range.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by edunbar93 (141167)
        Sure, but let's just say that rats aren't exactly a fragile, endangered species. They'll probably survive the next world war despite how practically every other species won't.
        • A fairly common theme in 50s and 60s post-apocalyptic science fiction was the radiation-spawned mutant rat people. Usually, they were depicted as nasty little or not so little jaspers with spears and a craniverous attitude. Can't say I miss the overarching fear of nuclear war as an everyday component of society.
        • Trilobites ruled the oceans for 250 million years but didn't survive the Permian extinction.
    • Re:BTW (Score:4, Interesting)

      by regular_gonzalez (926606) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:49AM (#16408383)
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tipping_point [wikipedia.org]

      Not saying this necessarily applies; just pointing out that just because a process may be gradual does not mean that its consequences can't be sudden.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by E++99 (880734)
      Yes, but if someone starts looking at actual science like this, they might notice that ALL the actual mass extinction events in earth's history are cooling events, not warming events. The warming (and increased CO2) means more food availability, more fresh water availablility, and more survivable habitats. The only downside is rising ocean levels, and that is only a downside if you either 1) own ocean-front property, or 2) are planning a trip from Russia to the Americas on foot.
      • The only downside is rising ocean levels ...

        No it isn't:

        • Europe might be gripped by an ice age [newscientist.com] (despite the global warming).
        • Warmer temperatures elsewhere can accelerate the release of methane [bbc.co.uk] into the atmosphere and that could push global temperatures to increase dramatically. Think Venus.
      • Unfortunately there are 100's of millions of people living in 3rd world countries / below the poverty line that live in these coastal areas, think bangladesh , half the country is prone to flooding without rising sea levels, karachi a city of 10-15 million right by the water, calcutta n thats just a small part of the world, similar cities in africa, asia europe the americas , how much do you think it'd cost b/w 100 million to a billion people? Now imagine displacement of that magnitude happening within a li

      • It's lovely that you have it all figured out and seem to know every consequence of a warming event.... not.

        Desertification comes to mind...
        http://water-is-life.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]

        Also while it may be fun to have laughs at the expense of the "spotted owl lovers" the plunge in biodiversity which has already started won't seem so funny when you are inhaling the neurotoxic fumes of the algeas that take over when the current biosphere can no longer sustain itself.
        • by ajs (35943)

          "Desertification comes to mind..."

          That's a huge concern right now, but sadly, that's mostly a matter of land-misuse, not warming.[1] [ciesin.org] In fact, a great many of the threats to our continued health are from forms of environmental damage and pollution that have nothing to do with temperature change in the climate. However, most of those are ignored as the public latches onto global warming as the number-one environmental issue, even in the face of massive chemical spills in China and India that could affect huge

      • Re:BTW (Score:4, Informative)

        by FhnuZoag (875558) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @12:41PM (#16410103)
        Man, why do people like you just draw random assertions out of a hat and pretend that's the divine truth. Let's actually look at the science, eh?

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permian-Triassic_exti nction_event [wikipedia.org]

        70% of all vertebrate species died in under a million years, leaving fungi dominant. Something of a mass extinction event, eh? (In fact, Earth's worst mass extinction event.) Observe the big temperature spike at PETM. (Top right corner)

        http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/1b/65_M yr_Climate_Change.png [wikimedia.org]

        Thank you and goodnight.
        • Re:BTW (Score:4, Funny)

          by dasunt (249686) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @01:39PM (#16410919)
          70% of all vertebrate species died in under a million years, leaving fungi dominant. Something of a mass extinction event, eh? (In fact, Earth's worst mass extinction event.) Observe the big temperature spike at PETM. (Top right corner)

          http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/1b/65_M [wikimedia.org] yr_Climate_Change.png

          The world's worst extinction event is the Permian-Triassic extinction event (251 million years ago).

          That temperature spike is the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum (55 million years ago).

          Wikipedia has a chart of extinction events over time [wikipedia.org]. Note the lack of a spike near 55 million years ago.

          Man, why do people like you just draw random assertions out of a hat and pretend that's the divine truth. Let's actually look at the science, eh?

          Here's a crowbar. You might need it to extract your foot from your mouth. ;)

    • Why is it? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shivetya (243324)
      That its perfectly fine for one side to have exceptions to issues the other side but the reverse is not true.

      My problem with the whole GW crowd is how they will quickly object or attempt to marginalize anything which doesn't support their view. At the same time any little piece of information which supports their view is held forth as indisputable fact.

      Look, we don't know half of what we think we do. The one great thing about science in this day and age is that we are continously changing what we know as
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Abcd1234 (188840)
        We can barely predict the weather from day to day let alone week to week.

        Someone needs a lesson in the difference between short term weather prediction and long term weather trends.

        Here's a (probably flawed) analogy: I throw a rock through the air. Moment to moment, I can't predict the exact path that rock will take. A breeze, some dust in the air, an updraft, these things can alter the path of the rock. But ask me to tell you where it's going to land, and I can probably do a pretty good job.
        • by Illserve (56215)
          Here's a (probably flawed) analogy: I throw a rock through the air. Moment to moment, I can't predict the exact path that rock will take. A breeze, some dust in the air, an updraft, these things can alter the path of the rock. But ask me to tell you where it's going to land, and I can probably do a pretty good job.

          No, you can predict that it's going to land but not exactly where, as those small fluctuations will add increasing amounts of noise to your estimate.

      • by SEMW (967629)
        >Look, we don't know half of what we think we do. The one great thing about science in this day and age is that we are continously changing what we know as fact as our ability to observe becomes better and better. Old theories that were hard to prove can be supported and previous "unalterable" facts are dismissed.

        You are correct in theory, but you are drawing completely the wrong conclusions from it. Yes, theories change, become more refined, perhaps become obsolete. Newton's laws of motion were su
      • So if the GW supporters are wrong, the worst that would happen from following their advice is that we would be out a little more money but living in an environment that is much more diverse and clean.

        If the GW supporters are right, and the worst that could happen from ignoring their advice is extinction of the Human Race.

        So list Mr-I'm-A-Greedy-Glutton, tighten your belt and consume less to ensure a nice planet for the future.
      • My problem with the whole GW crowd is how they will quickly object or attempt to marginalize anything which doesn't support their view. At the same time any little piece of information which supports their view is held forth as indisputable fact.

        Interesting how one can read "GW" as either "Global Warming" or "George W" and have the statement remain accurate -- and also reinforce your point.

      • by slew (2918)
        The intelligent tend to equiocate when confronted with the unknown.
        The partisan tend to accept uncritically the propaganda discount the dissent.

        Sadly neither response is very good way to approach a complicated problem like global warming. It takes wise people to weight all the evidence to get insight to what the problem is and suggest a course of action and true leadership to try something in the face of the knowledge that it may not be the right thing to do (and/or there is possibility of failure), yet th
      • by pavon (30274)

        We can barely predict the weather from day to day let alone week to week. We can't accurately predict the number of hurricanes, typhoons, or the like. Yet at the same time you want me to believe that enough is known to tell me that we are all going to die in 10 years?

        I know that the idea that inability to predict tomorrows weather implies inability to predict long term climate, seems intuitive but it is incorrect. There are many examples of similar situations. We cannot predict (or even measure) with exact

    • Re:BTW (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Dun Malg (230075) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:45AM (#16409241) Homepage
      before anyone starts getting all 'see, all you global-warming believers, this is a perfectly rational natural explanation for the current warming trend,' the periods of these natural cycles are on the order of 1.2 and 2.4 million years. not exactly fast-acting.
      Though is is worth noting that something happened either to the earth's orbit or its speed of rotation in the 8th century BCE. History shows civilizations around the world dumping their 360-day calender at right about the same time after having used it for over 1000 years, followed by a struggle to come up with a 365-day one. Attempts to hand-wave this away as "silly ancients couldn't make an accurate calendar" or "it was just a ceremonial calendar" are clearly wrong. With a 5 day variance like that the calender would become 180 degrees out of phase in only 36 years-- within one person's lifetime-- so obviously someone would've noticed and adjusted it and not just left it alone for 1000+ years. As for the second, that ignores the entire purpose of the calender: agricultural planning. A calender so inaccurate you can't plant crops by it is worthless. No, clearly the mechanics of earth's orbit were altered. Probably not enough to make any significant climatic difference, but an orbital alteration nonetheless, and within recorded history. Worth keeping in mind lest people get the idea that we live within a static system
      • Re:BTW (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jeremy Erwin (2054) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @01:14PM (#16410579) Journal
        ah, it's amazing how so many conspiracy theories have been brought to my attention through slashdot postings. Apparently, ithis particular linked in with Christian eschatology [escapeallthesethings.com] or some such nonsense.

        Might I point out that the Romans used an especially inaccurate calendar [wikipedia.org], and it was not until 46 BCE that the somewhat more familiar Julian system was adopted?

        360 happens to be an easy number to use. It's not especially accurate, but correcting the error requires some knowledge of astronomy, as well a certain amount of political power. Now, it may be that a number of civilizations adopted a 365 day year at approximately the same time. Perhaps some of them were trading partners.
      • by Reziac (43301) *
        Very interesting. And yes, if it were just one calendar that was screwed up and needed adjustments, maybe, but not worldwide.

        Any astrological events (including asteroid hits on Earth's surface, or possibly on the moon -- big tidal force maybe enough??) that could account for it?

        Anything similar in previous historical eras??

      • by khallow (566160)
        Ah, this explains why the Muslims use a 354 day calendar [wikipedia.org] namely because the Earth orbits faster for them.
    • Should we be surprised that the slashdot summary exaggerates reality somewhat? But also, there are numerous errors with the Reuters article. e.g.

      At the moment, the Earth is at the beginning of a cycle

      What the hell does that mean? The whole point of a cycle is that every point in the cycle is a 'beginning'. Roll forward a few million and we get the same thing again. Much better to read the original Nature article.

      http://www.nature.com/news/2006/061009/full/061009 -7.html [nature.com]

      Firstly, we are talking local effects

  • Wrong... (Score:4, Funny)

    by CUatTHEFINISH (970078) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:18AM (#16407897)
    The dinosaurs died because you touch yourself at night. Family Guy told me so.
  • They figured a way to stop a Supernova, a change on Earth's orbit should be a piece of cake!
    • by rlp (11898)
      They figured a way to stop a Supernova, a change on Earth's orbit should be a piece of cake! You can't stop a supernova, but if you're an action movie star you can outrun it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:20AM (#16407947)
    Is causing a wobble in the earth's orbit and causing global warming. Now where is my Nobel prize?
  • This is clearly due to world jump day... http://www.worldjumpday.org/ [worldjumpday.org]
  • by revery (456516) <charles AT cac2 DOT net> on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:26AM (#16408033) Homepage
    Too bad we don't have a way of keeping the Earth in the same orbit/on the same axis of rotation.

    You sir are shortsighted. Find someone to blame, add it to the party platform (either one, it doesn't matter) and then fund raise on it. Global Wobbling must be stopped!! We can stop it!!! It won't be stopped if party X get's/keeps control of Congress!!! The time to act is now!!

    Please click here to donate 25, 50, 100, 1000 dollars to STOP GLOBAL WOBBLING. You will receive two complimentary pamphlets entitled "The Wobble, the Planet, and You" and "Why is Galileo weeping?". Both are packed with earth-shattering information to help you spread the news of this new threat to our precious freedoms and way of life.

    • Too bad we don't have a way of keeping the Earth in the same orbit/on the same axis of rotation.


      if we drop enough bombs on an arab country it might affect the orbit of the earth.
      • by Xzzy (111297)
        You know how people suggest that having everyone jump at the same time would cause an earthquake?

        If we all got on swingsets and swung at the same frequency, we could alter the rotation of the planet. Might even be able to adjust the orbit a little bit.
      • by IflyRC (956454)
        If Al Gore makes a slide show, I think it will convince enough people to actually do something...maybe make a movie like "Day Before Yesterday" or something.
  • Vague article (Score:4, Informative)

    by novus ordo (843883) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:28AM (#16408059) Journal
    More info in nature [nature.com]. It seems to do with something called Milankovich cycles [wikipedia.org]. But i guess 'wobble' is specific enough for stuff that matters.
    • Freaked out (Score:5, Informative)

      by wurp (51446) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:35AM (#16409065) Homepage
      The whole tone of this /. post freaked me out. There's no way for there to be 'irregularities' in the Earth's orbit without something with both really high mass and really high velocity interacting with the earth or the sun.

      So I read up on Milankovich cycles, and it turns out it's just precession. It's perfectly regular, it's just that in the case of something the size & slow angular velocity of the earth, it takes a really long time to change.

      When you spin a top, you can see the axis of spin describe a circle. This is precession.

      Likewise as the Earth rotates, there is precession. Also, as the earth orbits the sun, there is precession. These have cycles on the order of tens of thousands of years. Both can affect the climate by changing the angle of sunlight. There are cycles on the order of millions of years long in which the two effects both affect the climate the same way, and so produce a bigger net effect.

      I guess wobble is an accurate term, except that to me it implies something irregular. In a system as big and isolated as the Earth's orbit around the Sun, or the Earth's rotation, momentum is king, and very little could cause an irregular change. These changes are just precession, and they're perfectly regular.

      I am not a physicist, but I do have a Bachelor of Science in Physics.
      • by khallow (566160)

        I guess wobble is an accurate term, except that to me it implies something irregular. In a system as big and isolated as the Earth's orbit around the Sun, or the Earth's rotation, momentum is king, and very little could cause an irregular change. These changes are just precession, and they're perfectly regular.

        Well, except that it is precession in an environment with two significant masses (Moon and Sun) and a bunch of minor ones (Jupiter and Venus in particular). There's plenty of chaotic, non-regular

      • The cycle that you describe does indeed exist and has been known to astronomers since the time of the ancient Greeks. This precession of the equinoxes [wikipedia.org] has a cycle of approximately 25,800 years, during which the positions of stars as measured in the equatorial coordinate system will slowly change; the change is actually due to the change of the coordinates.
  • Cyclical what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Loopy (41728) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:32AM (#16408123) Journal
    Even if we could affect a change in the earth's orbit around the sun, who's to say if that is a good thing? Might that not be akin to preventing all forest fires? Controlled burns are our way of preventing some large/catastrophic forest fires and lightning strikes are nature's way of doing it. What makes us think the "wobble" in our orbit isn't causing cyclical "refresh" events? No, I'm not suggesting some diety is controlling things or that ZOMG WE R AL GOING 2 DIE or anything like that. Just saying we might not yet comprehend the consequences of making this "fix" change. Hell, we are still unable to predict the weather with any certainty more than a day or two out. /shrug
    • by AviLazar (741826)
      Are you insane? We can't predict the weather, with any certainty, a few hours out. The news, yesterday, reported overcast day, but no rain....yea no rain, it poured so freakin hard my neighbors roof began to leak. Yea, don't mess with it, this stuff happens in the millions of years range...global warming is due to us being stupid, the changes our orbit exhibits is miniscule.
  • ...and asteroid impacts, close passes by rogue planets, ice ages, orbital wobbiling, development of nuclear weapons, and the occasional odd supernova in your immediate vicinity, you go on to develop advanced civilization and the Double Whopper with Cheese (tm).

  • Clearly, this is caused by the precession generated by all those people who are spinning in their graves. I say we dig 'em up and reverse their polarity.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:44AM (#16408303) Homepage Journal
    That's not the Earth's orbit causing rodent extinction.

    That was the mice [sadgeezer.com] rebooting the Earth while debugging it.

    Since the users of our iPlanet are bailing out now without the system shutting down, I expect we're obsolete. Get ready to do your part for the firewall they turn us into.
  • by HoneyBeeSpace (724189) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:47AM (#16408343) Homepage
    We don't have animals in our climate model, but if you'd like to see how orbit effects climate, you can do so yourself.

    The EdGCM [columbia.edu] project has wrapped a NASA GCM in a graphical interface. You can double-click to install, and if you'd like to turn the sun down a few percent or change the orbit, there are checkboxes and sliders. Press play, wait a while (hours to a day or so depending on your computer), and you can look at the results...

    Disclaimer: I'm the developer.
  • Just imagine... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nevergleam (900375)
    What if we solved global warming a few hundred years from now, reversed a lot of the temperature increases we found we are directly responsible for, and over that time the Earth's orbit/rotation changed such that an Ice Age was triggered? Oh noes! Suddenly global warming doesn't seem all that bad, does it?

    Suppose again someone in charge actually accepted my supposition and decided global warming research was pointless.

    Ok, I'm done making improbable suppositions.
    • by iggymanz (596061)
      the changes in earth's orbit and tilt (and of every other of our planets) are quite predictable, millions of years into the past and into the future. There's no sudden surprise changes short of collision or near miss by massive object.
  • Duh! (Score:2, Funny)

    Blame it on microsoft, it makes everyone so much more happier.
  • It's not the rotation, it's the tilt [sciam.com]

    The earth did it [sciam.com]]

    Of course, the better known theory that an asteroid caused the dinosaur extinction 65 million years ago might also be related to changes in earth's orbit, no?
  • Too bad we don't have a way of keeping the Earth in the same orbit/on the same axis of rotation.
    Give me the place to stand [and a very long and strong bar], and I shall move the earth.
  • Changes in astronomical variables can effect the climate? No effing way! This is a hoax meant to distract you from thinking that your car is the sole cause of global warming.
  • The (ring)WORLD is not stable!
  • Damn them! (Score:2, Funny)

    by interval1066 (668936)
    Damn the Republicans! They are responsible for this.

    ---
    "They are always satisfied. Who ever the fuck it is."
    -Andrew Dice Clay on his sexual prowess
  • by mrcgran (1002503) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @12:27PM (#16409877)
    "...So on top of worrying about global warming, it seems we should also worry about the physics that govern the orbit of Earth around the sun. Too bad we don't have a way of keeping the Earth in the same orbit/on the same axis of rotation."

    Yes, we have! And it's very interesting indeed!

    http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/planetearth/ earth_move_010207.html [space.com]

    A link to the paper: Korycansky, D. G.; Laughlin, Gregory; Adams, Fred C. Astronomical engineering: a strategy for modifying planetary orbits. Astrophys.Space Sci. 275 (2001) 349-366
    http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0102126 [arxiv.org]
    Abstract:
    "The Sun's gradual brightening will seriously compromise the Earth's biosphere within ~ 1E9 years. If Earth's orbit migrates outward, however, the biosphere could remain intact over the entire main-sequence lifetime of the Sun. In this paper, we explore the feasibility of engineering such a migration over a long time period. The basic mechanism uses gravitational assists to (in effect) transfer orbital energy from Jupiter to the Earth, and thereby enlarges the orbital radius of Earth. This transfer is accomplished by a suitable intermediate body, either a Kuiper Belt object or a main belt asteroid. The object first encounters Earth during an inward pass on its initial highly elliptical orbit of large (~ 300 AU) semimajor axis. The encounter transfers energy from the object to the Earth in standard gravity-assist fashion by passing close to the leading limb of the planet. The resulting outbound trajectory of the object must cross the orbit of Jupiter; with proper timing, the outbound object encounters Jupiter and picks up the energy it lost to Earth. With small corrections to the trajectory, or additional planetary encounters (e.g., with Saturn), the object can repeat this process over many encounters. To maintain its present flux of solar energy, the Earth must experience roughly one encounter every 6000 years (for an object mass of 1E22 g). We develop the details of this scheme and discuss its ramifications."

  • by przemekklosowski (448666) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @12:35PM (#16410017)
    The fascinating average temperature data from Vostok Antarctic ice data:

    http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/temp/vostok/graphics/ tempplot5.gif [ornl.gov]

    shows that for last 450,000 years Earth was mostly in the Ice Age, interrupted
    by 10,000 year long warm periods spaced 100,000 years apart. We are about 15,000
    years into the last warm period on record.

    Because of strong periodicity, the current best explanation of this cycle is
    by astronomical phenomena (Earth orbit/axis wobble).

    This does not contradict global warming---it just shows that the climate
    is a very delicate balance between strong opposing phenomena; the point being
    that we should be real careful how we influence it.
  • ... change for the last 200 years?
  • by jpellino (202698) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @01:51PM (#16411099)
    Extinctions Linked to Changes in Earth's Orbit.

    Or was I the only one who read it as a paucity of mammoths might cause a tilt...?

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