back to article Life on Earth gets wiped out every 27 million years, say boffins

Much of life on Earth gets regularly wiped out every 27 million years, according to boffins. It had been thought that this was caused by a dark star named "Nemesis", but apparently that was wrong. The next globo-extinction event is due in about 16 million years' time. A plot of extinction intensity in the past. Credit: Richard …

COMMENTS

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  1. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    That's when the aliens come back for the harvest.

    Yummy :)

  2. max allan

    Hmmm...

    Lies, damn lies and statistics?

    Without delving int the source data it looks to me like there are some big gaps in the 27 million year cycle. I wonder if there is some sort of underlying "approximately it was X when Y happened" that tends to bunch around the 27 mill marks? Like carbon dating having some unreliable/extra reliable spots that lumps things together. So, for example, actually the die off has been going for 20M years but we only notice it at the end.

    I, for one, will welcome our new overlords in 16 million years.

  3. paulc
    IT Angle

    orbital period?

    question, how long does it take the solar system to perform an orbit of the galaxy? also while doing so, wouldn't we be passing in and out of the spiral arms (I believe they are waves of compression and do not orbit at the same rate) and therefore in and out of material which would block the sun's output significantly.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Boffin

      About 220-250m years

      Depending on who you ask.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    God is an alien gardner

    and he can't keep time, the sloppy sod.

  5. Anonymous John
    Welcome

    16 million years

    That's a long time to wait before we can welcome our new species-extinguishing overlords.

  6. Owen Sweeney
    Stop

    The end is nigh

    Well, it's nearer today than yesterday.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Terminator

    What? You mean Keanu Reeves might have actually

    gotten something right in a movie?

    I for one welcome, etc. etc.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Not new but ...

    Yes, I remember 20 years ago reading about the theory. It was already proven that there was a catastrophy every 27million years.

    But maybe it's a reboot-script of Earth? Initialize every 27 million years hehehe.

    1. Bilgepipe
      Gates Horns

      Windows...?

      Perhaps reality is run by a huge, cosmic installation of Windows. 27 million years is how long it runs before it has to be rebooted.

      1. Handle this!
        Stop

        more like...

        27 days if it was windows and i think **most** people would notice that.

  9. jake Silver badge

    "usually pretty close"

    For small values of "pretty close".

    Statistically speaking, of course. But who am I to quibble? It sounds good, and might get the perps^Wresearchers a few quid in grant money, if none of the money-bags squints at the data with half a clue about math(s).

  10. Naughtyhorse
    Coat

    could be sooner we think...

    Could be that 27 million years is how long it takes the average dominant species to get all curious about the mass of the higgs boson....

    mine's the one with the neatly folded tin foil hat in the pocket

  11. Doshu
    Alert

    Dalek says:

    *It begins!*

  12. Sean O'Connor 1
    Stop

    Dubious

    This science sounds to me about as rigorous as some of the climate science stuff. Looks to me like they've come up with a theory that that there's a big extinction every 27 million years and then taken a very random looking graph and allowed themselves a lot of leeway to fit their theory onto it. Did they try values other than 27 million years and (with that same flexibility) see if they fitted too? Or produce random computer generated graphs and see if they could squeeze the 27 million year fit to them too.

    My money's on that extinction graph being completely random and very noisy so with sufficient fudging you could fit pretty much anything on it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      Graph

      Someone there should spring for a decent plotting program - as our continued existence may depend on it.

  13. Mystic Megabyte
    Coat

    Strange?

    Isn't it supposed to be just after all the telephone sanitisers are got rid of?

    Wait a minute, where *are* all the telephone sanitisers?

    Mine's got a copy of H2G2 in the pocket.

  14. Steven 1
    Coat

    I for one...

    "The next dotted line is due in 16 million years, but the associated extinction could be as much as 10 million years early."

    Has anyone thought to consult our new cephalopod mollusk overlord (the one they call "Paul"), he might be able to give a more accurate predication.

    :o)

  15. Ian Stephenson
    Coat

    Easy answer...

    If it's not Nemesis then it must be a Zombie Apocalypse!

    Mines the one with the pockets full of 12 guage cartridges.

  16. Doug Glass
    Go

    And The Mayans ....

    ... are saying we're in year 26,999,998. Or there about.

  17. Marco van de Voort
    Jobs Horns

    Asimov's nemesis

    Somebody has been reading too much Asimov ?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemesis_%28Isaac_Asimov_novel%29

    1. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Or even Jack McDevitt's 'Engines of God'

      http://www.sfreviews.net/enginesofgod.html

      (great book - none of the sequels quite match it)

  18. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    What?

    OK I think I WILL have that cup of tea after all.

  19. salada2k
    Thumb Up

    Phew

    Well then, just enough time to watch Lord of the rings extended edition again...

  20. Identity
    Coat

    Unscheduled disaster?

    Should we schedule them, then?

  21. Mike Brown

    whats more intresting

    is that chances are we are not the first inteligent life on the planet. if we could have evolved within 10 million years so could other intellegent life.

    cool and mind bending stuff

    1. A. Coatsworth
      Coat

      Re: whats more intresting

      The previous intelligent species survived the massive extinction in their cities in Antarctic and deep under the Pacific Ocean... And they are still there, waiting for the right time to take back the Earth.

      Mine's the one with the Necro...*Tekeli-li* *Tekeli-li*

      ARRGGGHHH!!!

  22. Ragarath
    Alien

    Everyone knows what this really is.

    Them there aliens set their (highly inaccurate) watches and make sure that no life gets to intelligent on this little planet in an out of the way solar system.

    Tin foil hats anyone? Though I doubt it will help with the rain of comets / asteroids.

  23. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    Dark stars...

    Dark stars... why is this kind of nonsense so common?

    i.e. You can't see it, but it must be there - it's magic. As in "we can't think of a sensible or more plausible explanation and we don't know what is causing it so rather than admitting that we have no idea we'll instead make up something invisible to believe in instead".

    Rings a bell in other fields of humanity as well.

    1. Highlander
      Pint

      other fiels of dak...

      Other fields, you mean that whole dark matter, dark energy thing where Physics can't figure out 3/4 of the expected mass of the universe, so they make it up because that way their math works?

      As you say having an invisible thing that influences the universe and is necessary for it's very existence and creation does sound familiar. I guess we should all ask God about it next time we talk over a pint...

  24. BristolBachelor Gold badge
    Joke

    Oh my god, quick!!

    Someone has put a graph in a scientific paper.

    We don't really understand it, and the model just says we are all going to die, but we don't understand the model, or know if it is right.

    Quick!! - rush in lots of "Nemesis" taxes. We must be seen to do something. Also enough worrying about this will make people forget about section 44...

  25. ratfox
    FAIL

    Statistics

    I doubt any statistician was involved in the publication of this factoid. A statistician would have pointed out the existence of the Poisson process.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Pint

    Douglas Adams

    It's "The Coming of the Great White Handkerchief".

  27. Stuart 22 Silver badge
    WTF?

    Another statistician writes ...

    The graph quite clearly demonstrates that extinctions are dying out ....

  28. Dan Breen

    16,000,000 years away?

    But with a +/- of 10,000,000 years, we could be as little as 6,000,000 years away from extinction - OMG won't someone please think of the great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandchildren!

    1. Dale Richards
      Headmaster

      Great, great, great, etc...

      Should I take it from the number of generations you mention that you and all your descendants are planning to have your children at the ripe old age of 47,244 (on average)?

  29. Filippo Silver badge

    Gigayear

    I just wanted to say that I love that word.

  30. Steven Jones

    Not if humans have anything to do with it...

    "The next globo-extinction event is due in about 16 million years' time"

    I'm sure if humanity puts its collective willpower together we can do much better than that. The initial signs are promising.

    1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  31. Ian Ferguson
    FAIL

    Stats fail

    Anyone could generate a similar theory by conjuring a randomised graph and picking out regular-ish peaks. There's nothing 'regular' or 'ordered' about those peaks.

    All it proves is that extinctions occur, at a varying scale (which we knew anyway), sometimes correlating to the theory of 'mass extinctions' (which is statistically logical anyway).

    Related to this article: This paranoia-fuelled theory that the BP Gulf disaster will trigger a 'world-killing' methane bubble event. Both theories are based in truth, but utilise dubious physics and statistics to reach incredible conclusions.

    http://www.helium.com/items/1882339-doomsday-how-bp-gulf-disaster-may-have-triggered-a-world-killing-event

  32. Tim Bergel
    Stop

    18 times???

    Out of the twenty 27-million-year markers shown on the graph, about 8 (depending on how fussy you are) don't really have an associated mass-extinction. Two of the circles appear to be (fairly) precisely in the middle of two of the markers, and two markers have a pair of extinctions.

    There is no way I can see 18 occurrences no matter how generous I am. And how anybody can describe this as "regularity of the extinctions" is beyond me - looks like complete rubbish.

  33. Nigel 11
    Boffin

    Use Fourier Analysis!

    Take the power spectrum of the sequence. If there's really a 27-My periodicity, there will be a spike at that frequency in the spectrum. If there isn't, thre won't be. If it's not an exact 27My cycle the peak will be broadened and not as high, but still above background noise. If it's wishful thinking, there will be no noticeable peak.

    I have to express doubt as to how accurately they can date extinction events hundreds of My past. It would oh so easy to allow belief in an extinction cycle to "close up" the error bars. 270My +/- 8My, rather than 270My +/- 14My, say. (The latter could not significantly support the theory, because the deviation covers an entire cycle).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      feel free...

      ... to look at Fig. 1 in the freely available pdf linked in the article.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Happy

      2, just too sweet

      I can't wait for 16 million years.

      I transferred my 401k (retirement account) to this nice Hedge Fund Manager at Goldman-Sachs. He said I get all my money back PLUS INTEREST in two million years and I'll still have 14 million years to spend it.

  34. Uk_Gadget
    Dead Vulture

    27 million years to go....

    ....Only problem is they should have told us 26,999,999 years and 364 days ago... Goodnight everyone and Waiter, Check Please!!!!

  35. Richard Scratcher
    Boffin

    Flippin' Poles

    Geology tells us that the Earth's Poles can move about and actually swap position over long periods of time. This would remove the Earth's vital magnetosphere, which protects all life from deadly radiation emanating from our Sun.

    Recent studies have confirmed that the Poles have been moving over the last few years although many of them have gone back home again having been disenchanted by crappy weather and poor quality lager.

    1. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Okay assuming your first paragraph wasn't a joke

      Do you mean magnetic poles or geographic poles? Magnetic poles are ephemeral not only waxing and waning, but moving all the time. Yes they can degrade to such a point that the Earth is exposed to the solar wind, but these periods don't seem to coincide with mass extinctions.

      The geographic poles wobble, but like the Weebles they don't fall down since they are more or less locked by the Moon.

    2. Nigel 11
      Thumb Down

      Poles flip far too often

      THe Earth's magnetic poles flip a lot more frequently than every 27My. Every few tens of thousands of years, if I remember right. Same sort of frequency as supervolcanoes. There's a fossil magnetic record in the form of the direction of magnetisation of the ocean floor, which is spreading at cm/year (10s of km per My) outwards from its molten source at the mid-ocean ridges.

      During a flip the atmosphere would continue to provide protection from radiation. There isn't a major radiation problem at the poles, is there? Just pretty auroras in the sky. What will be lost during a flip, is the protection of the Earth's atmosphere *from* solar radiation. For geological values of "short" and "long", there's a short-term issue with global warming, and a long-term issue of the Earth's atmosphere being stripped off by the solar wind. "Long" hasn't happened yet - we still have an atmosphere. But one day, the earth's core will freeze and our atmoshere will go the way of Mars's. That's if the sun doesn't go red giant first, which it probably will.

  36. Sam Liddicott
    Unhappy

    Oh no!

    27 million years? I've got a plumber booked then!

    1. Gannon (J.) Dick
      Welcome

      Bad luck, Sam

      Now if it was the Cable Guy ...

      they normally say 27 million years plus/minus 2 million years.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    All hail the return of the legendary Mutant Star Goat

    Man the B Ark people.

  38. L1feless

    The Answer is....

    Forty- Two

  39. Retired Geek
    Unhappy

    Didn't Anyone Notice? It's Already Happened.

    All the ecologists are screaming about the loss of bio-diversity caused by over development and habitat loss. The extinction of mega-fauna in the western hemisphere "coincidental" to the arrival of humanity 15,000 years ago (those native Americans who were so-o-o in harmony with Nature) is well documented. The deserts of the Middle East were the Garden of Eden, where agriculture started.

    I see no reason for anything more exotic than a recurring biological cycle of evolving dominant life forms that reduce biodiversity by successfully out breeding the other species. We see micro examples of this here in the Gulf of Mexico when there is an algae "bloom" called "Red Tide" that kills off large numbers of fish and other bottom dwellers by blocking sunlight and reducing the oxygen in large (hundred mile) swaths of ocean.

    The pattern could be trending towards fewer extinctions because all the species alive are descendants of survivors from previous cycles. We are clearly this cycle's dominant life form and we have been doing an admirable job of killing off the weaker species.

    It doesn't require intelligence to muck up the ecology. Intelligence just lets us do it more quickly and on a global scale. Maybe as much as 16 mega years faster? Yea, us.

  40. koopmaster

    I can't resist - ITS THE END OF THE WORLD...!!!

    In 16 Million years........

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Alien

    It's just a noodley appendage...

    ...doodling on an etch-a-sketch. It's only when the beer-volcanoes run dry, that we'll all be in deep kim chee.

  42. El
    Happy

    Alternative explanation

    The marker that scientists use to date fossils (Carbon 14 dating) follows a 27 million year cycle.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    The trouble with graphs

    Just because a graph seems to give you a correlation doesn't actually mean there is one.

    Then again, maybe we should be praising the Somalians

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Spaghetti_Monster#Pirates_and_global_warming

    Mines the one with the noodly appendages

  44. SilverWave
    Happy

    So... the doomsday machine wakes up every 27my?

    With a small random factor thrown in just so as not to me too predictable...

  45. JayDee

    so

    I'm 41, live on my own with a cat, and can’t drink alcohol anymore....

    I welcome the end of the world.

    1. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: so

      Aw. Chin up, JayDee.

  46. David McMahon
    Alert

    I'm trying to read this

    At 6am, it's not happening! I'll try later!

    Please don't end the world yet! I've not had supper

  47. url
    Stop

    preposterous

    the earth is only 2000 years old, baby jesub died for our syns (acks)

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Argh! I can't find my ....

    .... towel and the dog has eaten the peanuts.

    Looking at the accuracy of the statements made vs. the data available, I'd say a Pension Fund Manager has been involved somewhere along the line. Hey, there's a thought; perhaps another use for Paul the Octopus could be in Pension Fund Management?

  49. zenp
    Alien

    ...stupid food...

    ...Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn...

  50. edwardecl
    Grenade

    Bah, it's obvious

    Has nobody watched Reign of Fire?

    The dragons wake up every ~27 million years for a snack. Maybe sooner with all the mining and drilling ^^.

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Of course

    it could be that all those species died out in a global cataclysm 4500 years ago.

  52. Mips
    Jobs Horns

    If that is periodic....

    ... I would not set my watch by it. I think it is a case of 18 event in 500m years - Ooh lets see! Thats once every 27m years, OK.

    Best of luck doomsayers.

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Graph pretty meaningless

    without error bars.

  54. Mussie (Ed)
    Jobs Halo

    See

    See what happens when got for gets to save spor

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