Occasionally something happens that causes us to question our assumptions and re-evaluate our priorities. It can be the death of a family member or close friend. It can be a discovery or a revelation – some new information that challenges our paradigms and shakes up the way we look at the world. Recently I came across such information.
The galaxy in which we reside is, on average, a very dusty place. The remnants of exploding suns, fragments of colliding objects and all kinds of cosmic compost occupy the space between the stars. When enough of this material collects under the right conditions, new stars and planets are born, and in our Milky Way galaxy there is a large amount of this star stuff. A large amount, that is, except for the neighborhood in which we reside.
It turns out that we live in an empty zone relative to the “vacuum” of space. Other parts of our galaxy are a thousand times more “dusty” than the neighborhood around our sun. Something swept our neighborhood clean. We reside in a kind of “chimney,” so to speak, a tunnel of relative emptiness that extends beyond us and across the galactic plane. Astronomers refer to this tunnel as the Local Bubble. Sitting at the other end of the Local Bubble some 500 light years away is a pulsar, a gamma emitting neutron star known as Geminga. Geminga is thought to be the remains of a giant star that went supernova some 300,000 years ago. When the star exploded, a shock wave traveling at a million miles per hour headed for our Earth and beyond.
What could such an event mean for a planet caught in its path? Any object close enough to the source of the explosion it would be annihilated, converted to superheated gas as it joined the expanding wave. At a distance of 500 light years or so, a planet such as ours would be bathed in gamma radiation and pelted with debris traveling at nearly 3000 miles per hour (ca. 4,828 km/h). The ozone layer would be stripped away, exposing the entire planet to a wide spectrum of increased radiation from the sun. Fires would incinerate much of the plant life on the surface of the world. Tsunamis would slosh back and forth from one side to the other of any ocean impacted by large fragments of space rocks. The dust from volcanic action and the smoke from fires would combine with increased cloud cover caused by cosmic radiation to rapidly reduce the temperature and change the climate. Many plant and animal species would go extinct in the ensuing years. The shock wave from such an exploding star could push comets and asteroids out of their orbits and create new hazards to the earth for thousands of years to come. Human life itself would be threatened.
In Arizona, Michigan, Manitoba, Alaska and all across a huge swath of North America and eastern Siberia, there have been found embedded in the bones of mammoths and other extinct mega fauna, microscopic iron spherules – but usually appearing on only one surface of the remains. Where the spherules are found, they are all embedded at the same angle. These fossilized remains occur in what archaeologists refer to as the Clovis layer, a stratum found in the soil at varying depths all across North America that dates to around 13,000 years ago. Mega fauna appear below the Clovis layer but not above it. The iron spherules and radioactive isotopes appear in high concentrations inside the Clovis layer, but not above it and not below it. From Virginia to Alabama and concentrated in the Carolinas are shallow depressions visible only from the air. Known as the Carolina Bays, these mysterious craters are ringed with white sand and a raised lip which is always higher at the southwest end, and in this raised lip are found high concentrations of iron spherules and radioactive isotopes.
From Genesis to Gilgamesh, from the Hopi, the Sioux and indigenous people all around the world, legends have been passed down to us of fire and flood, of stars falling to the earth, of the earth shaking and mountains falling into the sea. Physicist, Richard Firestone; geologist Simon Warwick-Smith and Allen West, PhD. have written a book entitled, “The Cycle of Cosmic Catastrophes: How a Stone Age Comet Changed the Course of World Culture.” The book tells a scientifically plausible detective story which points to Geminga as the smoking gun which set the stage for the last 13,000 years of the Earth’s history.
That’s certainly something to think about when the Earth enters the Taurid Meteor Stream in November. Some astronomers believe that it was a fragment of the Taurids that exploded over Tunguska in Siberia in 1908 and flattened over 700 square miles of forest.
Here is the rest of the story. Extinctions have occurred many times in earth’s history. There is a sequence to an extinction event, and this pattern has been repeated many times in the past. A catastrophe occurs which eliminates some species and creates conditions for others to flourish. The population of the new dominant species increases rapidly, which leads to a further depopulation of species that are less successful. We are in the middle of an extinction event right now which has already claimed about half of the species that have existed over the last 13,000 years – a blink of an eye in geologic time. WE are the new dominant species, and our rapidly increasing impact on the planet is pushing us towards the next catastrophic depopulation. While we look to a falling sky for our doom, it may already be creeping up behind us, a monster of our own making.