When a strange light brightened the sky of our planet 2.6 Million years ago, it stayed there for weeks and even months. The event was known as a supernova, 150 light years from the Earth. A century after what happened, a huge wave of energy from the star that exploded could have damaged our atmosphere. It could have led to a drastic change in climate, bringing forth simultaneous extinctions of large aquatic animals.
Astrobiology published a paper that discussed the effects of the powerful supernovae on enormous ocean animals. According to professor emeritus of astronomy and physics in at the University of Kansas, Adrian Melott, the supernovae are evidence of events that transpired at a certain period. Knowing the distance of the supernovae enable scientists to compute how they affected the planet. By then, everyone could know what happened to the ocean animals on a more specific level. Recent research papers reveal iron-60 isotope deposits in ancient ocean floors because of the supernovae.
Back in the mid-90s, iron-60 deposits were sought after as the sign that supernovae occurred near the Earth. Iron-60 could only have been deposited into the oceans via supernovae. This isotope is radioactive. It would have disappeared long ago if it formed naturally on Earth. Even so, there is still a persisting debate if it was, indeed, a series of supernovae or it was just one that occurred. Melott believes that it could have been a combination of both. There could have been a series of supernovae and then one of them happened to have been strangely close and powerful.
Melott’s research team is composed of Laura Paulucci and Franciole Marinho, both from Brazil. Based on their studies, it is evident in the local universe’s architecture that there have been a series of supernovae. Melott said that there is a bubble and we are all on the edge of it. It is about 300 light years in length, has low-density gas, and extremely hot. It has almost been stripped of all its gas clouds. A series of supernovae can certainly produce such a bubble. With this local bubble, the cosmic rays are deflected from its sides. The shower of cosmic rays would go on for 10,000 years to 100,000 years. This can easily accumulate cosmic rays that could last for millennia.
It truly doesn’t matter if just a supernova or if it was a series of supernovae that occurred near the Earth during the Pleistocene era. What is significant is the energy that came from them. The said energy that dispersed numerous layers of iron-60 isotopes on a global scale. This brought about the penetrating muons. These particles scatter all around the Earth and cause mutations and cancers that became more evident in large animals.
According to Melott, a muon is a significantly heavy electron, two hundred times bigger than a common electron. They pass through everyone and everything because they are very penetrating. These particles are pass through without causing harm. Muons usually multiply once a cosmic rays hit. A small fraction of muons interacts. Yet, if there is a large number of them, their energy level increases, bringing forth illnesses and mutations—the major biological outcomes. Melott and his team estimated that when the muons hit, the rate of these effects would increase by 50% for something the same size as a human. The bigger the organism, the worse the mutation gets.
The supernovae that occurred 2.6 million years ago could be connected to the massive extinction of marine animals between the Pliocene and Pleistocene periods. This boundary is where 36% of recognized genera were considered extinct. This annihilation mainly happened in coastal waters. This is where much larger organisms would acquire larger amounts of radiation from the muons.
The dangerous effects of muons extend downwards, hundreds of feet into the seas and oceans. They become less harmful the deeper they go. Muons that have high levels of energy can reach the deepest part of the oceans. There, they become more effective agents of destruction. Because of this, the fiercest, largest marine animals that reside in the shallows may have received the fatal blows of the supernovae’s radiation.
Scientists believe that one of the gigantic marine animals that suffered extinction back then was the Megalodon. These majestic creatures disappeared 2.6 Million years ago. The muons might have affected them terribly. The radiation they might have acquired was way too heavy.
This evaluation of the supernovae and the muons could bring light to the marine megafaunal elimination of the Pleistocene era. The shift that was recognized paved the way for the detailed examination of what truly happened to the large marine animals of the Pleistocene. Radiation was so detrimental that its effects could have made changes that weren’t possible before the period.