Ice age on Earth likely caused by interstellar cloud

Cold cloud of gas, dust is possibly behind ice age on planet Earth, as per new study

By  Web Desk   |  
June 12, 2024
A representational image depicting ice age. — Unsplash/File

Around two million years ago, Earth may have shortly lost protection from the Sun and was left to bear the severe environment of interstellar space as the solar system moved through a dense cloud of gas and dust between the stars, as per the scientists.

Notably, early human ancestors shared the planet with prehistoric animals like mastodons and sabretooth tigers during that time, according to Space.


It was also the time when Earth was in the middle of the ice age which ended only around 12,000 years ago. A range of factors, including the Earth’s tilt and rotation, carbon dioxide levels in its atmosphere, and shifting plate tectonics and volcanic eruptions at its surface are behind ice ages.

However, this research implies radical changes in the planet's climate, considering the timing of when scientists think Earth plunged through interstellar space.

The position of our solar system in our home galaxy could have also possibly influenced the onset and ending of ice ages.

As it traversed the Milky Way two million years ago, a dense patch of interstellar gas and dust could have been encountered by the solar system, as per the suggestions of the new findings by the team.

To interfere with a stream of charged particles called the "solar wind" flowing from the Sun and impacting Earth, that patch is likely to have been thick enough. Moreover, this potentially caused plunging temperatures.

"This paper is the first to quantitatively show there was an encounter between the Sun and something outside of the solar system that would have affected Earth's climate," Merav Opher, the research lead author and a space physicist and expert on the heliosphere at Boston University, said in a statement.