|A false-color image of an unrelated supernova remnant, G292.0+1.8, taken by the Chandra X-ray telescope.|
The star explosions took place between 1.7 million and 8.7 million years ago, irradiating the landscape with high-energy cosmic rays. Cosmic rays hit Earth every day, but the stellar explosions would have increased the radiation striking our planet.
When the cosmic rays hit molecules in our atmosphere, a cascade of secondary particles such as X-rays, protons and muons are produced. Some muon radiation is normal, but the supernovae would have temporarily tripled the dose for land animals and animals living in shallow waters, said co-author Adrian Melott, a University of Kansas physics researcher, in a statement.
"I was expecting there to be very little effect at all," he said. "The supernovae were pretty far way — more than 300 light years — that's really not very close."
|Artist's impression of cosmic rays, which usually originate from outside the solar system, entering the heliopause (the sun's region of influence).|
Some researchers have speculated that there could be a link between increased cosmic rays and a cooler climate on Earth, although that link isn't proven for sure. (Simply put, the theory associates cosmic rays with aerosols, which could produce clouds, which in turn reduces the amount of solar radiation on the surface.) If a connection could be made, Melott said it is possible the supernovae were associated with a known, smaller mass extinction 2.59 million years ago when Earth went through repeated ice ages.
Read more at Discovery News