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Did It Happen?
The image above shows an expanding supernova remnant blazing over a barren Earth landscape--the possible result of a nearby explosion. Composit image: Chandra X-Ray Observatory image of Cassiopeia A courtesy of NASA. Landscape courtesy 2000- www.arttoday.com

Several possible effects of a nearby supernova on Earth have been proposed.

1. If the amount of infalling radioactive material is sufficient, plants and animals would die directly from radiation sickness.

2. In certain types of supernovae, huge quantities of tiny particles called neutrinos are released. The flood of neutrinos would pass through plants and animals causing genetic mutations and cancers.

3. Infalling radioactive matter from supernovae are like cosmic rays, which some scientists think may cause increased cloud cover. If enough clouds are created by particles from a supernova, a super-cold "cosmic-ray winter" may occur, causing widespread starvation.

4. Increased radiation from a supernova may destroy Earth's protective ozone layer for centuries. If the ozone layer were gone, ultraviolet rays from our own Sun would reach the surface, killing land plants and ocean plankton. Earth's food chains would collapse from the bottom up, causing starvation and extinction.

Now the question is: Did a nearby supernova kill the dinosaurs? Unfortunately, the remains of any star that exploded 65 million years ago would be far across the galaxy by now, so we must look for evidence in Earth's rocks. You might look at the patterns of extinctions--which plants and animals died--or evidence for rare isotopes of elements that may have come from a supernova. To help you in your search, you might want to look up more information about supernovae, dinosaur extinctions, radiation sickness, isotopes, cosmic rays, neutrinos, the ozone layer, and food chains. Good luck!

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Dino Extinction by Supernova
Suddenly One Night
Look, Up In the Sky!
Image of a star. Did It Happen?

 

 
             
     
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Dino Extinction by Supernova | Suddenly One Night | Look, Up In the Sky! | Did It Happen?

Giant Impact | Super Nova | Disease | Volcanoes | Orbital Changes | Meet the Dinosaurs | Into the Future

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Last updated on
April 28, 2005

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