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Study: Dark Matter Could Send Asteroids Crashing Into Earth

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This long-exposure photograph taken on August 12, 2013 shows the Milky Way in the clear night sky near Yangon. (Photo credit: Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images)

This long-exposure photograph taken on August 12, 2013 shows the Milky Way in the clear night sky near Yangon. (Photo credit: Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images)

CAMBRIDGE, M.A. (CBS Hartford) – A new study suggests that dark matter could send asteroids crashing into Earth causing mass extinctions.

Researchers from Harvard University suggest that a disk of clouds and clumps made of dark matter about 35 light-years thick that lies along the central plane of the Milky Way could disturb the orbit of comets in the outer solar system, hurling them inward. This would cause asteroids to catastrophically impact the earth similar to the kind that ended the Age of Dinosaurs, according to Harvard’s theoretical physicists Lisa Randall and Matthew Reece.

Researchers analyzed craters more than 12 miles wide that were created in the past 250 million years. They then compared their pattern against the 35-million-year-cycle and found that it was more than three times more likely that the craters matched the dark matter cycle than that they occurred randomly, Space.com reported. 

 “The cycle is slightly off for that mass extinction, but we have an incomplete data set regarding impact craters, so maybe with more information the cycle might fit what we know better,” Randall told Space.com.

Meteor bombardment of Earth rises and falls in a cycle about 35 million years long and scientists have proposed a cosmic trigger for this cycle past research has suggested. However, Randall and Reece pointed out that this cycle of doom closely matches the rate at which the sun passes through the central plane of the Milky Way instead of blaming a “death star’ for these incidents. 

European Space Agency’s Gaia mission could show the existence of a dark matter disk, the scientist’s noted. 

“Even if it’s a remote possibility that dark matter can affect the local environment in ways that have noticeable consequences over long periods of time, it’s still incredibly interesting,” Randall said.

The research can be found in the journal Physical Review Letters

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