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The galactic cycle of extinction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 March 2008

Michael Gillman
Department of Biological Sciences, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK e-mail:;
Hilary Erenler
Department of Biological Sciences, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK e-mail:;


Global extinction and geological events have previously been linked with galactic events such as spiral arm crossings and galactic plane oscillation. The expectation that these are repeating predictable events has led to studies of periodicity in a wide set of biological, geological and climatic phenomena. Using data on carbon isotope excursions, large igneous provinces and impact craters, we identify three time zones of high geological activity which relate to the timings of the passage of the Solar System through the spiral arms. These zones are shown to include a significantly large proportion of high extinction periods. The mass extinction events at the ends of the Ordovician, Permian and Cretaceous occur in the first zone, which contains the predicted midpoints of the spiral arms. The start of the Cambrian, end of the Devonian and end of the Triassic occur in the second zone. The pattern of extinction timing in relation to spiral arm structure is supported by the positions of the superchrons and the predicted speed of the spiral arms. The passage times through an arm are simple multiples of published results on impact and fossil record periodicity and galactic plane half-periods. The total estimated passage time through four arms is 703.8 Myr. The repetition of extinction events at the same points in different spiral arm crossings suggests a common underlying galactic cause of mass extinctions, mediated through galactic effects on geological, solar and extra-solar processes. The two largest impact craters (Sudbury and Vredefort), predicted to have occurred during the early part of the first zone, extend the possible pattern to more than 2000 million years ago.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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