From Discovery: “Black Holes Set the Clock for Life on Earth”

Discovery News
Discovery News

Jan 6, 2016
Larry O’Hanlon

Temp 1
ESO/M. Kornmesser

There is a chance — just a chance — that if black holes rule the universe, they could have “switched on” habitable planets, such as Earth, allowing them to support complex life.

It’s an unavoidable implication of the work of astrophysicist Paul Mason, who is examining the role of the super high-energy particles from black holes and exploding stars in the advent of habitable planets.

Before life started on Earth, the planet was bathed in deadly radiation from the younger, angrier sun as well as a high tide of energetic particles — a.k.a. cosmic rays — being blasted around the galaxy and universe by exploding stars and giant black holes at the centers of galaxies. At some point the cosmic ray flux dropped enough so that life on Earth — and on any Earth-like planet anywhere in the universe — had a chance to flourish.

“It has taken the universe a while for the cosmic ray density and the frequency of bad events to decrease enough for life to handle it,” Mason told Discovery News. Mason is a professor at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and presented his work on Wednesday at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Kissimmee, Fla.

Those bad events include supernovas — the explosive deaths of very large and short-lived stars — which were much more common in the early universe, when the rates of stars births was far higher, said Mason. Other very bad events were the storms of radiation that might have blown from the gigantic central black holes of galaxies when they gulped down matter. Such feeding frenzies — and the harsh, sterilizing radiation they released — were also more common in the past, as astronomers have learned by looking at more distant, and therefore more ancient, galaxies.

Compounding the early universe’s problem with life is the fact that everything was much closer together. The small young universe was packed thick with sterilizing cosmic rays. It took billions of years for the expanding universe to pull things apart and help thin that deadly soup.

It implies that the expansion of the universe is important for life,” Mason said, regarding this cosmic ray perspective on the universe.

See the full article here .

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