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Galactic Origin For 62M-Year Extinction Cycle? 221

Hugh Pickens writes "Cosmologist Adrian Mellott has an article in Seed Magazine discussing his search for the mechanism behind the mass extinctions in earth's history that seem to occur with a period of about 62 million years. Scientists have identified nearly 20 mass extinctions throughout the fossil record, including the end-Permian event about 250 million years ago that killed off about 95 percent of life on Earth. Mellott notes that as our solar system orbits the Milky Way's center, it oscillates through the galactic plane with a period of around 65 million years. 'The space between galaxies is not empty. It's actually full of rarefied hot gas,' says Mellott. 'As our galaxy falls into the Local Supercluster, it should disturb this gas and create a shock wave, like the bow shock of a jet plane,' generating cascades of high-energy subatomic particles and radiation called 'cosmic rays.' These effects could cause enhanced cloud formation and depletion of the ozone layer, killing off many small organisms at the base of the food chain and potentially leading to a population crash. So where is the earth now in the 62-million year extinction cycle? '[W]e are on the downside of biodiversity, a few million years from hitting bottom,' writes Mellott."

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