It turns out that some of the mysterious dark matter that is missing throughout the known universe may be hiding in the middle of our own Milky Way galaxy, and it might even have indirectly contributed to comet impacts or other events that led to the dinosaur die off 65 million years ago.
The study of dark matter by biology professor Michael Rampino of New York University was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society earlier this week.
It’s all about dark matter
According to Rampino, the Earth passes through areas of concentrated dark matter every 30 million years or so, and that has had a major impact on the geology and biology of the planet. Rampino argues that dark matter can alter the orbits of comets as well as causing additional heating of the Earth’s core leading to volcanoes, mountain building and other events connected to mass extinctions.
The Earth typically orbits the ‘galactic disc’ – the area of the Milky Way where our solar system is found – once every 250 million years, but its orbit brings it closer to the crowded middle of the disc every 30 million years or so, a region where scientists believe there is a relative abundance of dark matter.
Matching up these cycles with what we know of geologic history, Rampino discovered that the 30 million year periods correlate to known periods of comet impacts and mass extinctions. The comet that hit the Earth 66 million ago leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs is one example of a known event matching a dark matter exposure cycle.
Statement from Prof. Rampino
“We are fortunate enough to live on a planet that is ideal for the development of complex life, ” Rampino commented. “But the history of the Earth is punctuated by large scale extinction events, some of which we struggle to explain. It may be that dark matter – the nature of which is still unclear but which makes up around a quarter of the universe – holds the answer. As well as being important on the largest scales, dark matter may have a direct influence on life on Earth.”