Nearby supernova may have helped to initiate ice ages?

Discovery of a nearby supernova 2.5 million years ago boosting cosmic rays may lend credence to Svensmark’s cosmic rays modulate clouds on Earth theory.

Supernova Explosion

From the TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY OF MUNICH (TUM) via Eurekalert

Stellar explosion in Earth’s proximity

When the brightness of the star Betelgeuse dropped dramatically a few months ago, some observers suspected an impending supernova – a stellar explosion that could also cause damage on Earth. While Betelgeuse has returned to normal, physicists from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have found evidence of a supernova that exploded near the Earth around 2.5 million years ago.

The life of stars with a mass more than ten times that of our sun ends in a supernova, a colossal stellar explosion. This explosion leads to the formation of iron, manganese and other heavy elements.

In layers of a manganese crust that are around two and a half million years old a research team led by physicists from the Technical University of Munich has now confirmed the existence of both iron-60 and manganese-53.

“The increased concentrations of manganese-53 can be taken as the “smoking gun” – the ultimate proof that this supernova really did take place,” says first author Dr. Gunther Korschinek.

While a very close supernova could inflict massive harm to life on Earth, this one was far enough away. It only caused a boost in cosmic rays over several thousand years.

“However, this can lead to increased cloud formation,” says co-author Dr. Thomas Faestermann. “Perhaps there is a link to the Pleistocene epoch, the period of the Ice Ages, which began 2.6 million years ago.”

Ultra-trace analysis

Typically, manganese occurs on earth as manganese-55. Manganese-53, on the other hand, usually stems from cosmic dust, like that found in the asteroid belt of our solar system. This dust rains down onto the earth continuously; but only rarely do we perceive larger specks of dust that glow as meteorites.

New sediment layers that accumulate year for year on the sea floor preserve the distribution of the elements in manganese crusts and sediment samples. Using accelerator mass spectrometry, the team of scientists has now detected both iron-60 and increased levels of manganese-53 in layers that were deposited about two and a half million years ago.

“This is investigative ultra-trace analysis,” says Korschinek. “We are talking about merely a few atoms here. But accelerator mass spectrometry is so sensitive that it even allows us to calculate from our measurements that the star that exploded must have had around 11 to 25 times the size of the sun.”

The researchers were also able to determine the half-life of manganese-53 from comparisons to other nuclides and the age of the samples. The result: 3.7 million years. To date, there has only been a single measurement to this end worldwide.

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The paper: https://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.125.031101

46 thoughts on “Nearby supernova may have helped to initiate ice ages?

        • Your comment brings up a good point.
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  1. Maybe the extra iron could fertilize algae growth, thus sucking CO2 from the atmosphere and forestalling the catastrophe of global warming….

    I’m just being a jerk, here.

    • The original 60Fe spike. 60Fe is pretty rare, only produced by certain stars at certain times, like when they are just going supernova.

  2. I’ll bite. Which sun went supernova? Remember if it wasn’t very close it would take a long time for the dust to get here because the dust travels much slower than the speed of light. The inverse square law applies so if we are a long way off, we would see very little dust. Maybe so little dust that there might not be enough to measure. They might be able to get an idea about the direction by measuring the concentration from pole to pole but unless something turns up in a sky survey, knowing which star it was might remain unknown.

    • That was my first instinct. Where is the smoking gun? I suppose it could have become disappeared from view just with age, but depending on the speed of the cosmic rays/dust, we should have some idea where it would have originated. Being that the dust arrived some 2.5 million years ago at a much slower speed than light, that should still be well outside of our local Milky Way galaxy, so I doubt this was the cause of the start of the Pleistocene and subsequent ice age that began in the northern hemisphere. There is already much more viable evidence for the latest ice age 2.58 mya.

      However, it is probably likely that things come out of left field every few million years that we have no idea about, and how that would impact modern day society. Having a warmer climate with additional CO2 is the best insurance policy against any galactic or universal hanky-panky. We are sort of sitting ducks in the scheme of things, and things sometimes just don’t go to plan. Especially with 8-9 billion people on the good Earth at any one time. Any old galactic hiccup might cause stress on the climate, which will rebound, but now people expect the same climate forever, which never was the default position. That’s the tragedy, that most people just don’t understand and are fed propaganda by other people for nefarious purposes. Oldest story in the book.

    • Agreed Dena!

      Atoms spread in an ever expanding ring.

      Aimed at our Solar System with far larger gravity pits and magnetosphere generators like the sun, Jupiter, Saturn and even Neptune to influence and attract the dust atoms?

      How many atoms make up their markers?
      From how many locations on Earth?

  3. Odds are better that the earth was either hit by an asteroid rich in Mangenese-53, or the solar system drifted through a dust cloud that was rich in Mangenese-53.

    • It’s the 60Fe spike found in 2004 that provides the strong evidence for the supernova and the date its remains arrived to the Earth.
      The 53Mn is just confirmation. the combination makes a stronger case.

      • “We are talking about merely a few atoms here…. the star that exploded must have had around 11 to 25 times the size of the sun.” And it exploded on Friday, barely possibly Thursday.

        • Before anyone jumps ugly on Curious George about how he can tell “2.5 million yrs ago, on a Friday”. That’s the sort of fine resolution you can expect only from tree rings.

  4. These two sentences are fighting with each other:

    1) While a very close supernova could inflict massive harm to life on Earth, this one was far enough away. It only caused a boost in cosmic rays over several thousand years.

    2) “However, this can lead to increased cloud formation,” says co-author Dr. Thomas Faestermann. “Perhaps there is a link to the Pleistocene epoch, the period of the Ice Ages, which began 2.6 million years ago.”

    How can a several thousand year increase in cosmic rays cause a 2.6 million year ice age?

    • That’s wild speculation from one of the authors when talking to a person in the press office desperate for writing something interesting in an otherwise dull press release.

    • Doesn’t the dust travel slower than cosmic rays? Did cosmic rays precede the arrival of the dust by quite a few thousand years? Possibly a million?

      • As implied in the above article, the “dust” of the supernova is the actual cosmic rays (highly energetic, bare nuclei of various elements created in the supernova process).

        “Most galactic cosmic rays have energies between 100 MeV (corresponding to a velocity for protons of 43% of the speed of light) and 10 GeV (corresponding to 99.6% of the speed of light).”—http://www.srl.caltech.edu/personnel/rmewaldt/cos_encyc.html

        The speed for iron-60 and manganese-53 cosmic rays could be approximated by applying a relativistic mass-energy-velocity correction for their atomic masses compared to a proton. At the lower energy-end, the relativistic mass correction is not great (about 11% for a proton), so for iron-60 and manganese-53 cosmic rays their slowest speed could be approximated (using KE = 0.5*m*V^2 scaling) as being about 6% the speed of light. Higher energy-end velocities for these ions would be approximately 100^0.5 higher, or around 50% lightspeed.

  5. How can a several thousand year increase in cosmic rays cause a 2.6 million year ice age?

    If it is the impulse that tip the earth’s climate system from one chaotic attractor to another, it could.
    The question is, is the ice age – or any ice age, a quasi stable attractor? is the presence of so much ice sufficient to, say, increase the albedo enough to stay frozen once frozen?
    WUWT has already published several articles about the impact of the latent heat of evaporation, which tends to stabilise a world around the 35°C mark over the tropical oceans. What would be the energy needed to melt an entire NH ice cap miles deep, once established, and would it have sufficient impact to change ocean and atmospheric circulations enough to protect itself?
    Not in any way claiming this for anything more than wild speculation, but you did ask….such a state would require some extra extra heat input to return to an interglacial like now.
    The question would be, how fast did it freeze? If it were over a thousand years only, that would slightly support the idea of an ‘overcast millennia’ leading to an ice age.

  6. Occam’s razor: dust cloud in space reduce solar irradiance to earth. Enough to initiate ice ages.
    When the space cloud disappear the ice melt.

    Simple as that.

  7. Astrology.
    The Earth climate is governed by the oceans and the land configuration.
    Capping antarctica was the major driver starting the ice ages.

    • The Antarctic ice sheets formed after deep oceanic channels formed between Antarctica and South America and Australia around the Eocene-Oligocene boundary. They melted back a bit when the Scotia Plate temporarily shoaled the Drake Passage in the Miocene.

  8. Am I reading this report correctly? The atoms from this supernova 2.5 mya travelled to Earth at the speed of light? Really?

  9. This research has nothing to do with climate.

    In 2004 it was reported that there is an increase in 60Fe in a deep-sea manganese crust dated at 2.5 Mya:
    Knie, K., et al. “F 60 e Anomaly in a Deep-Sea Manganese Crust and Implications for a Nearby Supernova Source.” Physical Review Letters 93.17 (2004): 171103.

    The authors of the present article state that a supernova is not the only possible origin for the 60Fe as it can also be produced in asymptotic giant branch stars. How that iron would get from those stars to the Earth they don’t say.

    So there they go looking for confirmation using 53Mn. The problem is that, unlike 60Fe, 53Mn has both interstellar and interplanetary origin, so it is present in small amounts everywhere. There’s no 53Mn spike to be found, just an increased amount between 4 and 1 Mya. But that is enough for them to say that they have confirmed the supernova origin for the 60Fe. I don’t think it needed this crummy confirmation, but that is my opinion.

    Problem is there is no climate anything in this research. No climate, no interest for people. Who cares about a supernova that took place so long ago? So the people at the university press office after talking to the authors got one of them to wildly speculate about ice ages and cosmic rays.
    https://www.tum.de/nc/en/about-tum/news/press-releases/details/36198/

    There is only a tiny problem. 2.5 Mya was when the iron and manganese from the supernova arrived to the Solar System. Nobody has any clue of when the supernova took place, how far was it, or when the cosmic rays arrived, as usually they travel faster than interstellar dust. That’s why it is wild speculation that cannot be found in the scientific article.

    This does not support Svensmark’s hypothesis in any way.

  10. 2.5 Mya is when the Panama seaway finally closed, thus altering the oceanic circulation patterns.
    Plate tectonics at work.

  11. “observers suspected an impending supernova – a stellar explosion that could also cause damage on Earth.”

    Really!? When??

    Betelgeuse is approximately 600 light years away.
    Nova powered atoms initially travel at approximately .75 of the speed of light and are highly susceptible to the many stellar systems they pass near.

    Given, that Betelgeuse may have already exploded 600 years ago; Betelgeuse nova powered atoms will arrive 800 or more years after we see radiation from the explosion.
    I expect none of us will ever see Betelgeuse atoms arriving.

    The thing to do is publicly energize and excite anyone fretting about the results of Betelgeuse’s nova; then hit them with reality.

  12. The locations of recent supernovae near the Sun from modelling 60Fe transport
    https://www.nature.com/articles/nature17424
    and references therein.
    Our local bubble from multiple “recent” supernovas, should be a reminder of the neighborhood.
    Cosmic rays, modulated by the sun, from such a firework display are mild in comparison to the Ordovician Event, a gamma ray burst :
    https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200407/extinction.cfm
    To say this stuff has no effect on climate or life is wishful thinking.

  13. The article has this italicized lead in: “Discovery of a nearby supernova 2.5 million years ago boosting cosmic rays may lend credence to Svensmark’s cosmic rays modulate clouds on Earth theory.”

    And we find this in the body text: “Using accelerator mass spectrometry, the team of scientists has now detected both iron-60 and increased levels of manganese-53 in layers that were deposited about two and a half million years ago.”

    As other’s have correctly pointed out, there is no way of knowing when the purported supernova actually occurred time-wise just from dating possibly-associated sediments found here on Earth. The speed of “cosmic rays” from a supernova is not light speed, let alone instantaneous. The article only makes sense if the term “nearby” means <<2.5 million light years and everything is being rounded off to the nearest 0.1 million years.

    So, it seems to me that the cosmic ray irradiation from such a supernova—-sufficient to actually result in geological layers having detectable iron-60 and manganese-53 enrichment—would also have been sufficient to create a noticeable spike in C14 in Earth's atmosphere. Has anyone looked for evidence of an anomalous spike in C14 happening 2.3 million years ago that would corroborate the above article's claims?

    • As a follow-up to my post immediately above, C14 has a half-life of 5730 years. So over 2.5 million years of radioactive decay in an isolated specimen, there would be far less than 0.000000% of C14 remaining. That means that even if we could analyze a gas bubble from 2.5 million years ago that was trapped in, say, amber—and amber can be as old as 320 million years—we would not be able to determine the amount of C14 that it once had, let alone compare the bubble’s C14 concentration to other bubbles in amber dating to, say, +/- 0.2 millions years on either side.

      Forget that I asked the question.

  14. Always have loved Svensmark’s physics of cloud formation. Even if wrong, the way it includes relativity physics with every day physics and chemistry is just inspired. Now, if one could only get those pesky quarks to tie strings around it…

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