Blasts from ancient supernovae may have led to humans walking upright

Approximately 8 million years ago, the Earth was bombarded with cosmic energy from supernovae, peaking approximately 2.6 million years ago. And that blast of energy may have resulted in early man becoming bipedal, walking upright, according to a paper published in the Journal of Geology.

Science Daily notes:

The authors believe atmospheric ionization probably triggered an enormous upsurge in cloud-to-ground lightning strikes that ignited forest fires around the globe. These infernos could be one reason ancestors of Homo sapiens developed bipedalism — to adapt in savannas that replaced torched forests in northeast Africa.

Imagine the possibility: Increased cosmic energy causes lightning strikes that touch off forest fires across the globe, and man evolves to walking upright so he can run and escape the scorched landscape, along with the new dangers such a landscape presented. It’s a perfect example of adaptation in response to environmental conditions.

Lead author Adrian Melott, professor emeritus of physics & astronomy at the University of Kansas, explained how he believes man became bipedal:

“It is thought there was already some tendency for hominins to walk on two legs, even before this event. But they were mainly adapted for climbing around in trees. After this conversion to savanna, they would much more often have to walk from one tree to another across the grassland, and so they become better at walking upright. They could see over the tops of grass and watch for predators. It’s thought this conversion to savanna contributed to bipedalism as it became more and more dominant in human ancestors.”

How do we know that supernovae were so active during the timeline suggested? Deposits of iron-60 found on sea beds point to the fact. As Professor Melott noted:

“We calculated the ionization of the atmosphere from cosmic rays which would come from a supernova about as far away as the iron-60 deposits indicate,” Melott said. “It appears that this was the closest one in a much longer series. We contend it would increase the ionization of the lower atmosphere by 50-fold.”

Could such an event happen again? Melott doubts it will anytime soon, mainly because the nearest supernova to Earth, named Betelgeuse, is 652 light years away and doesn’t pose a danger:

“Betelgeuse is too far away to have effects anywhere near this strong. So, don’t worry about this. Worry about solar proton events. That’s the danger for us with our technology — a solar flare that knocks out electrical power. Just imagine months without electricity.”

Months without electricity might just force humans to evolve again. But what would we become in our next iteration?

Featured Image Via NASA/Public Domain


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