Cosmic radiation from the Cat’s Eye nebula played a role in human evolution. It sounds like something explaining cosmically powered mutants out of a comic book, but the Meinels are quite serious, established astronomers, and invite skeptical investigation of their theory. Most of the article is devoted to their background, so i excerpted just the bit explaining the radiation influencing rapid mutations in the human lineage proposal.
While reading a story about ice-core research, Aden wondered whether the core samples also contained information about cosmic radiation levels over the Earth’s history. To his and Marjorie’s surprise, an examination of existing ice core data showed a significant surge in radiation roughly 40,000 years ago â€“ about the same time, they noted, that modern humans emerged in Eurasia, and numerous other species in the northern hemisphere were either undergoing significant change or disappearing altogether.
â€œThat’s when we first became tempted to put two and two together,â€ said Aden. â€œIf there was a large surge of cosmic rays, and there’s good evidence that these rays can (cause mutations), the question becomes, did they help create new species of life?
â€œOur findings indicate that two very rare occurrences happened at roughly the same time, which suggests that how we’ve evolved might not be just slow, random mutation and natural selection. Maybe we are partly the product of cosmic radiation.â€
The Meinels even have a likely source for the radiation: the gaseous remains of a dying star called the Cat’s Eye nebula discovered by William Herschel in 1786.
According to their hypothesis, the nebula began emitting a burst of radiation roughly 200,000 years ago. â€œAround the time that Neanderthals began to appear,â€ said Aden.
Approximately 40,000 years ago, the frequency and intensity of the radiation surged, spawning in the Meinels’ view, a host of evolutionary changes. â€œThen, about 10,000 years ago, the Earth passed out of the nebula’s jet of cosmic rays, ending the accelerated mutations,â€ said Aden.
Why just humans though?