A shower of matter from space millions of years ago could have led to drastic changes in the Earth’s climate, followed by the extinction of life on a massive scale, which also killed off the dinosaurs. This at least is a theory put forward by scientists from the University of Bonn. Normally, the solar wind acts as a shield against showers of cosmic particles, which prevents too many energy-rich particles from raining down on our atmosphere. Since 1997 scientists from Bonn, funded by the German Research Council (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft or DFG), have been examining how and why this gigantic shield works.
They were the undisputed masters of a whole geological era until they suddenly disappeared 65 million years ago. ‘Perhaps Earth just became too damp and too cold for dinosaurs at that time,’ Professor Hans Jörg Fahr from the Bonn Institute of Astrophysics and Extraterrestrial Research surmises. The reason for the sudden change in climate could have been excessive pressure on our cosmic umbrella.
The solar system does not stand still, in fact it orbits the centre of the Milky Way once every 250 million years. In the process it also passes through dense clouds of interstellar matter, which causes problems for the solar wind and thus for the Earth. Whereas the solar wind normally protects the Earth from a hail of interstellar particles like a huge bullet-proof vest, there are then suddenly up to a hundred times more particles raining down into the earth’s atmosphere at enormous speeds. On impact they smash the air molecules into electrically charged fragments. These function as condensation nuclei on which droplets of water form. “The result is dense cloud cover with greater precipitation and sinking temperatures,” says Professor Fahr, who bases his remarks on research worldwide.
Professor Hans Jörg Fahr | alphagalileo
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