Into the dark side

The Milky Way as seen over the desert of Bardenas in Spain The Milky Way as seen over the desert of Bardenas in Spain Inigocia
11 Apr
2015
Every 30 million years or so, the Earth passes through the most crowded section of the galactic disc. Mass extinction events and radical changes to the Earth’s geology follow

New research has suggested that what the Earth encounters when it enters the Milky Way’s crowded section of the galactic disc – namely dark matter – causes changes deep within the planet’s core.

‘When the Earth passes through [that part of] the disc, it might encounter dense clumps of invisible dark matter,’ says professor Michael Rampino, a biology professor at New York University, whose research shows a correlation between mass extinctions, geological change and the Earth’s orbit.

‘Dark matter is slowed by collisions with the Earth, loses energy and spirals into the Earth’s core,’ says Rampino. ‘If the particle is its own antiparticle they will annihilate each other, giving off energy.’

As the particles annihilate each other, immense heat is created in the Earth’s core. This heat triggers volcanic eruptions, mountain building, changes sea levels and can even flip the Earth’s magnetic fields.

A passage through dark matter also changes pathways for comets orbiting far from Earth in the outer Solar System. Comets that usually take orbits far from Earth can be pushed onto a collision course.

‘As well as being important on the largest scales, dark matter may have a direct influence on life on Earth,’ says Rampino. These changes apparently take place over a long time period and the professor warns that it may not be possible to predict encounters with dense clumps of dark matter.

‘We are fortunate enough to live on a planet that is ideal for the development of complex life. But the history of Earth is punctuated by large scale extinction events, some of which we struggle to explain,’ says Rampino. We can rest easy for a while though. Earth’s last journey through the disc was three million years ago.

This article was published in the April 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

Target Ovarian Cancer

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Geophoto

Camera technology may have come a long way since the…

Energy

The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn…

Wildlife

Despite their high profiles, most of the world’s national animal…

Oceans

Asian countries are pledging to reduce the amount of land-based…

Geophoto

There’s a world of visual wonder beneath the waves but…

Energy

A short, summer eclipse in America has solar power generators…

Climate

A dramatic increase in dust storms across the western United…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Climate

A study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of…

Wildlife

It’s not just the bees that are disappearing. Insects across…

Oceans

Far beneath the waves, a race is unfolding to claim…

Climate

Compared to other types of carbon sink, seagrass in Kenya…

Geophoto

Who in their right mind wants to shoot with film…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Geophoto

Calling photographers passionate about capturing and sharing great images of…

Climate

Five experts weigh-in on the future of the Paris Agreement…

Oceans

Analysis into a killer whale found dead off the shores…

Geophoto

For the past ten years, the Chartered Institution of Water…

Geophoto

Less than 4,000 tigers remain in the wild, so it…

Oceans

Zafer Kizilkaya has been awarded the 2017 Whitley Gold Award…