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Nearby supernova may have caused mini-extinction, scientists say

elds said, significantly reducing Earth's surface temperature and triggering a cosmic-ray winter that could last for thousands of years.

Besides global cooling, an increased cosmic-ray flux would produce additional stratospheric nitric oxide that could deplete the ozone and expose the biosphere to the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation.

"There is fossil evidence for a couple of mini-extinctions during the Cenozoic Era," Fields said. "One occurred about 13 million years ago; the other occurred about 3 million years ago. Marine animal families near the bottom of the food chain -- such as zooplankton and echinoids -- were impacted the most. The pattern of extinction is consistent with a major reduction in marine photosynthesis."

The supernova origin of the observed iron-60 would be confirmed by finding additional radioactive nuclei, such as plutonium-244. "This would open up a whole new era of supernova studies using deep-ocean sediments as a telescope," Fields said.


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Contact: James E. Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
kloeppel@uiuc.edu
217-244-1073
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
2-Aug-1999


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