Are Impact Craters and Extinction Episodes Periodic? Implications for Planetary Science and Astrobiology

M R Rampino, Andreas Prokoph


A review of the results of published spectral analyses of the ages of terrestrial impact craters (58 analyses) and biotic extinction events (35 analyses) reveals that about 60% of the crater trials support a statistically significant cycle averaging ∼29.7 million years (My), and about 67% of the trials of extinction episodes found a significant cycle averaging ∼26.5 My. Cross-wavelet transform analysis of the records of craters and extinctions over the past 260 My shows a mutual ∼26 My cycle and a common phase, suggesting a connection. About 50% of the best-dated impact craters seem to occur in approximately nine pairs or clusters in the past 260 My, apparently carrying the signal of an ∼26- to 30-My cycle. It has been suggested that periodic modulation of impacts and extinctions might be related to periodic comet storms that follow the solar system's oscillations in and out of the galactic mid-plane. Problems arise, however, with regard to the compatibility of such periodic pulses of comet flux with the makeup of the steady-state Near Earth Object (NEO) population, the estimated long-term NEO cratering rates on the terrestrial planets, and the predicted small contribution of Oort Cloud-derived comets to the terrestrial crateri...Continue Reading


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