Supernovae are so violent and powerful phenomenons that they can be even bigger than an entire galaxy. They rarely spare anything that they encounter, but it seems that our planet was lucky once more for being located not too close to such a cosmic monster. Thanks to a new study from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and led by Dr. Gunther Korschinek, we know that a supernova exploded near our planet around 2.5 million years ago.
Although the supernova was located at a larger distance than any spacecraft would be able to travel during a human lifetime, we can still consider it terrifyingly close to our planet. The earliest humans appeared on Earth seven million years ago, so there were plenty of our ancestors around when the supernova unfolded itself.
Heavy elements from within the Earth’s manganese crust confirm the supernova
There’s no secret to scientists that the insane temperatures within a supernova are ideal places where some of the heaviest chemical elements are born, like gold and Uranium. The TUM research team has confirmed the existence of around 2.5 million years old iron-60 and manganese-53 within Earth’s manganese crust. These findings represent solid evidence that the supernova did occur. The scientific team had been using an accelerator mass spectrometry to detect the chemical elements.
However, we would be too naive to think that any life forms on Earth would ever be able to survive a direct hit of a supernova. Such events occur during the last evolutionary stages of massive stars or when white dwarfs are triggered into runaway nuclear fusion. Supernovae are also representing the stage before the emergence of a black hole, the most mysterious known phenomenon from the Universe.
The new research was published in the journal Physical Review Letters.