A Guide to the Most Destructive Events in the History of Earth

If you want some epic disaster tales this evening, you can watch this How Stuff Works podcast about possible causes of the five mass extinctions that nearly extinguished all life on Earth. After that cheerful topic, I also talk about why scientists believe we're heading into a sixth mass extinction.


I've been obsessed with mass extinction for some time, and even wrote a book about it a couple years ago. What I'm discussing here are some of my favorite scientific hypotheses (sorry — I called them theories, but I meant hypotheses!) about what caused horrific mass extinctions in deep geological history. Understanding these previous events allows us to make judgements about whether we're in another mass extinction period right now. More importantly, it helps us figure out how we might stop the extinctions before they reach the epic levels required to qualify for a mass extinction.

Many thanks to Christian Sager and all the folks at How Stuff Works, who recorded this late last year at DragonCon.

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65 million years ago the dinosaurs got wiped out; they had ruled the Earth for about 180 million years. Estimates of number of years for major specie evolution is, interestingly, about 60 million years pretty consistently (time between eras), so we COULD assume dinosaurs had been evolving into dinosaurs for 60-ish million years before they popped up - that is to say, about 240-ish million years from start of dinosaur significant evolution to extinction.

The Solar System revolves around the Milky Way about every...225 to 250 million years.


Has anyone gazed into the Cosmos and tried to look at things, say, 65 million light years away opposite the direction of Milky Way rotation?