Thus went the opening narration to the original Battlestar Galactica TV series. Those words always sent a thrill down my spine – even though Star Trek was way cooler, Galactica was simply more epic, based on those simple words above. Later, in college I added an Astronomy major to my Physics and Math degrees (like shopping at K-Mart – buy two get one free – due to the coursework overlap) and learned in a nutshell that the entire Solar System was nothing more than “scum” waste product of supernova explosions, and that all the elements of which we and our planet were made were birthed in the cosmos. It turns out that the biosphere on earth is also “scum” from the formation of the earth, but that’s another story.
At any rate, it’s precisely the intrusion of the cosmically macroscopic into the mundane fact that we exist that has long fascinated me and captivated my imagination. Which is why this story really resonates with me – how the galactic baby boom influenced the origins of life on earth:
Some 2.4 billion years ago when the Milky Way started upping its star production, cosmic raysâ€”high-speed atomic particlesâ€”started pouring onto our planet, causing instability within the living. Populations of bacteria and algae repeatedly soared and crashed in the oceans.
The researchers counted the amount of carbon-13 within sedimentary rocks, the most common rocks exposed on the Earth’s surface. When algae and bacteria were growing in the oceans, they took in carbon-12, so the ocean had an abundance of carbon-13.
Many sea creatures use carbon-13 to make their shells. If there is a lot of carbon-13 stored in rocks, it means life, the origin of which is still unknown, was booming. Therefore, variations in carbon-13 are a good indicator of the productivity of life on Earth.
The researchers found that the biggest fluctuation in productivity coincided with star formation, which had an affect on Earthâ€™s climate and therefore on the productivity of life on our planet.
This sort of stuff really serves to cement my faith and underline how awesome, literally, is Creation.