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The interstellar cloud may have influenced Earth's climate

The interstellar cloud may have influenced Earth's climate

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Millions of years ago, the solar system may have encountered a dense cloud. According to one study, this may lead to a drop in temperature.

FRANKFURT – It is widely accepted that the increase in global temperatures that has been occurring for years is primarily due to human activity. However, there are also extraterrestrial factors that may or have been able to influence the climate on our planet. For some time now, celestial bodies have influenced the Earth's orbit through their gravity and thus their living conditions.

A new research paper has now put forward the hypothesis that the solar system may have collided with an interstellar cloud millions of years ago – with potentially profound impacts on our planet.

A collision with an interstellar cloud millions of years ago may have caused an ice age on Earth

Scientists have long suspected that the solar system has encountered various interstellar formations, such as clouds of gas and dust, throughout its history. actual Stady Astrophysicists from Boston University and the Harvard-Radcliffe Institute used models to show for the first time that the solar system could have traveled through a dense interstellar cloud about two million years ago.

Led by astrophysicist Merav Ofer, researchers reconstructed the past orbit of the solar system using complex computer models. They found that a collision with an interstellar cloud known as the “local lynx of cold clouds” would likely severely distort the heliosphere – the solar system's protective layer.

This may have led to the planets of the solar system being directly exposed to the interstellar medium, which greatly affected Earth's climate. So they could be in a trade magazine Nature astronomy The published results explain why the Earth is going through an ice age at this time.

The heliosphere is a simulation of scientists studying collisions with the solar system and interstellar clouds
The distorted heliosphere of our solar system simulated by scientists. © Ophir, Loeb, et al./Physical Astronomy

After colliding with an alien cloud: Earth may remain unprotected for up to a million years

The heliosphere normally protects Earth from interstellar radiation. It is maintained by the solar wind, which consists of charged particles thrown by the sun. However, during the collision with the dense, icy cold interstellar cloud, the heliosphere may have been compressed so much that Earth may have been unprotected for a period of several hundred to million years.

The US research team's simulations show that the heliosphere, which shrank to a size of only 0.22 AU as the cloud passed, would have opened the door to cosmic rays and high-energy particles. The study suggests that large amounts of neutral hydrogen may have changed the chemical composition of Earth's atmosphere as a result. “This work is the first to quantitatively show that there was an encounter between the Sun and something outside the solar system that would have affected Earth's climate,” lead author Ofer says of the results.

Heliosphere

The heliosphere, which extends far into interplanetary space, can be called the heliosphere, which is strongly influenced by the solar magnetic field and the solar wind affected by it. It serves as a protective barrier for Earth, its organisms, and other planets in the solar system, although it is subject to long-term changes.

The boundary region of this “giant bubble,” where interplanetary matter meets interstellar matter, is known as the edge of the Sun. This limit is believed to be 120 astronomical units (about 17,951,700,000 km), based on data from the Voyager spacecraft.

sources: spektrum.dePhysical Papers (2001), NASA

Evidence of this theory can also be found on Earth. The study, published in June 2024, said the models are consistent with increases in radioactive iron and plutonium isotopes in the ocean, ice and snow at the South Pole and the Moon during the same period. These elements, which are often the remnants of massive stellar explosions, would have reached Earth relatively unimpeded due to the lack of a “protective bubble.”

Did solar system encounters affect evolution?

However, researchers have been unable to determine the exact effects of such a collision on Earth. “It's impossible,” says one of them. Blog post University for study to determine the exact effects. However, it is possible that this encounter could also have an impact on evolution on Earth: “Our results open a new window on the question of the relationship between the evolution of life on Earth and our cosmic neighborhood,” says Abraham Loeb, a cosmobiologist. Contributing authors.

An artist's concept of Voyager 2 at the edge of the solar system's heliosphere
An artist's impression of Voyager 2 and the heliosphere of our solar system. (Illustration) © imago Stock&people

In future work, the research team plans to look up to seven million years and even further into the history of the universe to determine the possibilities of other cosmic encounters. Another study says that about 13 million years ago, Earth may have been hit by a mysterious galactic wave. The current results are “just the beginning,” Over says.

Not only are giant clouds approaching the solar system, but interstellar meteorites, which some believe are alien spacecraft, are also likely. (g)

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