Episode 111: Can Supernovae Cause Extinctions!?, with Shawn Bishop

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Feature Guest: Shawn Bishop

Prof. Shawn Bishop Fachgebiet Nukleare Astrophysik; Foto: Eckert / Heddergott TU Munchen; Verwendung frei fur die Berichterstattung uber die TU Munchen unter Nennung des Copyrights

We’ve long known we’re made of star stuff, but now it turns out that life on Earth might be even more intimately connected to events in deep space than we imagined. Scientists recently reported the first ever discovery of supernova ash – atoms forged in the catastrophic explosion of dead stars – found buried in fossils created by bacteria right here on Earth. And most surprising of all these findings hint at a possible role for supernovae in bringing about mass extinctions, events which have changed the course of life on Earth and may do so again in our future. Today we’re joined at The Star Spot by the discovery team’s Professor Shawn Bishop.


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Current in Space

We worry whether our search for extraterrestrial intelligence is looking in the right place. Tony tells us a better question might be whether we’re looking at the right time. But might we be able to catch life ejected into space? Dave shares exciting evidence of enormous water jets coming from Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. Finally Anuj provides an update on an exciting future space telescope that might just be built by little, green… robots.

About Our Guest

Shawn Bishop is an experimental nuclear astrophysicist at the Technical University of Munich in Germany. Bishop studied at McMaster University and the University of Victoria and received his PhD from Simon Fraser University in 2003. He has worked at TRIUMF National Laboratory in Vancouver and the RIKEN National Laboratory in Saitama, Japan. He studies nuclear physics, nucleosynthesis and supernovae.


In 2004 a research team found iron-60 in a ferromanganese crust which provided evidence that the radioactive element was present on Earth as well as some indication of where to look in geological time.
For more information please read the research paper: Time-resolved 2-million-year-old supernova activity discovered in Earth’s microfossil record (9232–9237 | PNAS | August 16, 2016 | vol. 113 | no. 33).

Supernova Ashes Found in Fossils Hint at Extinction Event (space.com)

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