NYU professor’s research reveals significance of Earth’s movements


Hark Kanwal

Professor Michael Rampino studies Earth history.

Dhriti Tandon, Staff Writer

NYU biology professor Michael Rampino established conclusive correlations between the earth’s movement in the galaxy and biological phenomena, namely mass extinctions. In his paper published in “Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society,” Rampino discussed how periodic mass extinctions are strongly related to the earth’s position in relation to the galaxy.

Rampino noted that this correlation can be attributed to the fact that the Earth and the solar system’s movements around the galactic disc are circular in a large path but are wavy on a smaller level, which is what Rampino says creates the periodic mass extinction. 

Rampino’s research commenced in the 1980s after he found data sets that showed a 30 million periodicity between the mass extinctions and impact craters.

“An astronomer colleague of mine and I realized that there was a 30 million year cycle wherein the sun goes up and down in the galaxy,” Rampino said. “So we concluded that the passing through the plane of the galaxy shakes up the orb cloud, comets fall in, hit the earth and this happens every 30 million years.”

Unlike traditional scientific research that uses experiments to gather data, Rampino’s research has mainly involved inferring phenomena from pre-existing data sets.

“Impact craters have been dated,” Rampino said. “We did a spectral analysis of the dates and were pleasantly surprised that they had the same period as the mass extinctions.”

Because the data was already available to the scientific community, Rampino and his fellow researchers were worried that they may not be the first to infer the correlations.

“When the announcements came in the cycle of the mass extinctions that was published, we knew that everybody would be interested in finding what caused the mass extinctions to be periodic,” Rampino said. “We were very worried, because everybody was searching for the period and we were worried that we would get scooped.”

A common misunderstanding of Rampino’s research is that it eliminates human beings as one of the causes of global warming because it proves that extinction and global warming are affected by large scale factors such as galaxy position. Rampino does not debate that human beings are the cause of short-term climate change, but he notes that his research focuses on the long-term warming of the earth as a result of geological and astrological processes.

“I don’t think our research affects global warming on our time scales of human beings, but it affects global warming on a longer time scale, because the carbon dioxide geologically comes out of volcanoes,” Rampino said. “If we add up all the carbon dioxide that comes out of volcanoes over millions of years, that’s what controls the long-term climate.”

Optimistic about his research, Rampino intends to elaborate on his findings by narrowing the tentative periods of mass extinctions to specific dates.

“I love doing research,” Rampino said. “It is a very creative and rewarding experience, especially when you find something new, or discover interesting connections between sciences, like geology and astrophysics.”

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, March 5 print edition. Email Dhriti Tandon at [email protected]