Are Mass Extinctions Periodic, And Are We Due For One?

“If we start looking at the craters we find on Earth and the geological composition of the sedimentary rock, however, the idea falls apart completely. Of all the impacts that occur on Earth, less than one quarter of them come from objects originating from the Oort cloud. Even worse, of the boundaries between geological timescales (Triassic/Jurassic, Jurassic/Cretaceous, or the Cretaceous/Paleogene boundary), and the geological records that correspond to extinction events, only the event from 65 million years ago shows the characteristic ash-and-dust layer that we associate with a major impact.”

65 million years ago, a catastrophic impact from outer space caused the last great mass extinction on Earth, destroying 30% of the species that lived on our world at the time. These mass extinction events happened many times in Earth’s past, and the Solar System also passes through denser stellar regions of space periodically, as determined by the orbit of the Sun and stars in the Milky Way. It’s a combination of facts that might make you wonder whether the extinction events are also periodic, and if so, whether periodic impacts are predictable. If so, then shouldn’t we be aware of whether we’re living in a time of increased risk, and prepare ourselves for that possibility accordingly? After all, the dinosaurs didn’t have a space program or the capability of deflecting a dangerous object like the one that wiped them out.

But before we go that route, we should take a good look at what the data shows. Are mass extinctions periodic? Are we due? Let’s find out!

One of my favourite galaxies, the Triangulum Galaxy is a mesmerising spiral Galaxy that’s roughly 3 million light years from Earth. Also known as M33, it is part of our Local Group and is the 3rd largest member (after the Milky Way and Andromeda). The galaxy is estimated to contain 40 billions stars. In the distant future, the Triangulum Galaxy could possibly merge into the Andromeda Galaxy, which would be very interesting to observe.


The Milky Way Reflected Onto The Largest Salt Flat In The World

In a bid to find a perfectly dark sky, Russian photographer Daniel Kordan made a trip to the Altiplano region located in the west central South America.

Hailing 12,300 feet above the sea level, Kordan was able to utilize the Uyuni salt flat using the special astrophotography camera he had. This type of camera unlocks the colors found in the sky, opening up the barriers between earth and space and casting the Milky Way onto the reflective flats.


Try this the next time you go stargazing:

“As you lie on your back, it is natural to assume that you are looking up at the stars, but “up” is just a cultural construct. Neither Earth nor the Milky Way have an up or a down. Indeed, when you stand on Earth’s surface, you are not standing up; rather, you are sticking out into space.

So, as you lie on your back, instead of thinking of yourself as looking up, picture it so that you are on the underside of Earth looking down into the blackness of the night sky. It may take a while, but eventually you will experience all the stars as way down there below you; and you will be surprised that you are not falling down there to join them.

You don’t fall because Earth’s gravitational pull holds you. It is not your weight, but the Earth’s hold that suspends you above the stars. If Earth’s gravitational embrace were to suddenly vanish, you would descend into the dark chasm of stars below.

As you lie there feeling yourself hovering within this gravitational bond while peering down at the billions of stars drifting in the infinite chasm of space, you will have entered an experience of the universe that is not just human and not just biological.

You will have entered a relationship from a galactic perspective, becoming for a moment a part of the Milky Way Galaxy experiencing what it is like to be the Milky Way Galaxy.”

- Excerpt from Developing Ecological Consciousness: The End of Separation by Christopher Uhl

Photography credit: Starl0ck