The solar system crossed cold clouds 2 million years ago that altered the climate

The solar system two million years ago crossed an interstellar cloud so dense and so cold that it altered the climate on Earth, a finding that demonstrates that the location of the Sun in space could influence Earth’s history much more than previously believed.

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This has been verified by an international team of researchers, led by the astrophysicist Merav Opher, astronomy teacher at Boston University and member of the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard. Two million years ago, the Earth was a very different place, where human ancestors coexisted with saber-toothed tigers, mastodons and enormous rodents, and the planet had fallen into a deep freeze, with multiple ice ages that followed one another. until about 12,000 years ago.

Scientists have theorized about the reasons for the glaciationssuch as the tilt and rotation of the planet, changes in tectonic plates, volcanic eruptions or carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, but the new work suggests that these drastic changes are not only due to the environment of the Landalso to the position of the Sun in the galaxy.

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The scientists have found evidence that about two million years ago the solar system encountered an interstellar cloud so dense that it could have interfered with the solar wind.

The solar system is enveloped in a protective shield of plasma emanating from the sun, known as the heliosphere, formed by a constant flow of charged particles, called the solar wind, that extend beyond Pluto and envelop the planets. planets in what is called (a giant bubble).

That bubble protects the Earth from radiation and galactic rays qThey could alter DNA, and scientists believe that is partly why life evolved on Earth as it did, and the cold cloud compressed the heliosphere in such a way that it briefly placed Earth and the other planets of the solar system outside the influence of the heliosphere.

This work is the first to demonstrate that there was a meeting between the Sun and something outside the solar system that would have affected the Earth’s climate, says Opher, an expert in the heliosphere, in the same scientific publication.

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To study this phenomenon, Opher and his collaborators ‘looked’ back in time, using sophisticated computer models to visualize the position of the sun two million years ago, and with it the position of the heliosphere and the rest of the solar system.

They also traced the trajectory of the system of ‘Local Tape of Cold Clouds’, a chain of large, dense, very cold clouds, composed mostly of hydrogen atoms, and their simulations showed that one of the clouds near the end of that ribbon could have collided with the heliosphere.

If that happened like this, Opher maintains, the Earth would have been completely exposed to the interstellar medium, where gas and dust mix with leftover atomic elements from exploded stars, including the iron and plutonium.

Usually, the heliosphere filters most of these radioactive particles, but without protection they can easily reach the Earth, and according to researchers this agrees with geological evidence that shows an increase in some isotopes in the ocean, on the Moon, in the snow of Antarctica and in ice cores from the same time period.

It is impossible to know the exact effect they had the cold clouds on Earth, or whether they might have caused an ice age, but scientists know that there are at least a couple more cold clouds in the interstellar medium than the Sun has likely encountered in the billions of years since its birth, and that it is likely May he stumble across more in a million years or so.

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