Recent near-Earth supernovae probed by global deposition of interstellar radioactive 60 Fe

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The rate of supernovae in our local Galactic neighbourhood within a distance of about 100 parsecs from Earth is estimated to be one every 2-4 million years, based on the total rate in the Milky Way (2.0 ± 0.7 per century1,2). Recent massive-star and supernova activity in Earth's vicinity may be traced by radionuclides with half-lives of up to 100 million years3-6, if trapped in interstellar dust grains that penetrate the Solar System. One such radionuclide is 60Fe (with a half-life of 2.6 million years)7,8, which is ejected in supernova explosions and winds from massive stars1,2,9. Here we report that the 60Fe signal observed previously in deep-sea crusts10,11 is global, extended in time and of interstellar origin from multiple events. We analysed deep-sea archives from all major oceans for 60Fe deposition via the accretion of interstellar dust particles. Our results reveal 60 Fe interstellar influxes onto Earth at 1.5-3.2 million years ago and at 6.5-8.7 million years ago. The signal measured implies that a few per cent of fresh 60Fe was captured in dust and deposited on Earth. Our findings indicate multiple supernova and massive-star events during the last ten million years at distances of up to 100 parsecs.




Wallner, A., Feige, J., Kinoshita, N., Paul, M., Fifield, L. K., Golser, R., … Winkler, S. R. (2016). Recent near-Earth supernovae probed by global deposition of interstellar radioactive 60 Fe. Nature, 532(7597), 69–72.

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