Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Recent near-Earth supernovae probed by global deposition of interstellar radioactive 60Fe


The rate of supernovae in our local Galactic neighbourhood within a distance of about 100 parsecs from Earth is estimated to be one every 2–4 million years, based on the total rate in the Milky Way (2.0 ± 0.7 per century1,2). Recent massive-star and supernova activity in Earth’s vicinity may be traced by radionuclides with half-lives of up to 100 million years3,4,5,6, if trapped in interstellar dust grains that penetrate the Solar System. One such radionuclide is 60Fe (with a half-life of 2.6 million years)7,8, which is ejected in supernova explosions and winds from massive stars1,2,9. Here we report that the 60Fe signal observed previously in deep-sea crusts10,11 is global, extended in time and of interstellar origin from multiple events. We analysed deep-sea archives from all major oceans for 60Fe deposition via the accretion of interstellar dust particles. Our results reveal 60Fe interstellar influxes onto Earth at 1.5–3.2 million years ago and at 6.5–8.7 million years ago. The signal measured implies that a few per cent of fresh 60Fe was captured in dust and deposited on Earth. Our findings indicate multiple supernova and massive-star events during the last ten million years at distances of up to 100 parsecs.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Deposition rates for sediment (150-kyr averaged data) and incorporation rates for two crust samples.


  1. Diehl, R. Nuclear astrophysics lessons from INTEGRAL. Rep. Prog. Phys. 76, 026301 (2013)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  2. Timmes, F. X. & Woosley, S. E. Gammy-ray line signals from 26Al and 60Fe in the galaxies of the Local Group. Astrophys. J. 481, L81 (1997)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Ellis, J., Fields, B. D. & Schramm, D. N. Geological isotope anomalies as signatures of nearby supernovae. Astrophys. J. 470, 1227–1236 (1996)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Korschinek, G., Faestermann, T., Knie, K. & Schmidt, C. 60Fe, a promising AMS isotope for many applications. Radiocarbon 38, 68 (1996)

    Google Scholar 

  5. Fry, B. J., Fields, B. D. & Ellis, J. R. Astrophysical shrapnel: discriminating among extra-Earth stellar explosion sources of live radioactive isotopes. Astrophys. J. 800, 71 (2015)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  6. Wallner, A. et al. Abundance of live 244Pu in deep-sea reservoirs on Earth points to rarity of actinide nucleosynthesis. Nature Commun. 6, 5956 (2015)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Rugel, G. et al. New measurement of the 60Fe half-life. Phys. Rev. Lett. 103, 072502 (2009)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Wallner, A. et al. Settling the half-life of 60Fe—fundamental for a versatile astrophysical chronometer. Phys. Rev. Lett. 114, 041101 (2015)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Wang, W. et al. SPI observations of the diffuse 60Fe emission in the Galaxy. Astron. Astrophys. 469, 1005–1012 (2007)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Knie, K. et al. Indication for supernova produced 60Fe activity on Earth. Phys. Rev. Lett. 83, 18–21 (1999)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Knie, K. et al. 60Fe anomaly in a deep-sea manganese crust and implications for a nearby supernova source. Phys. Rev. Lett. 93, 171103 (2004)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Maíz-Apellániz, J. The origin of the Local Bubble. Astrophys. J. 560, L83–L86 (2001)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  13. Breitschwerdt, D. & de Avillez, M. A. The history and future of the Local and Loop I bubbles. Astron. Astrophys. 452, L1–L5 (2006)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Benítez, N., Maiz-Apellaniz, J. & Canelles, M. Evidence for nearby supernova explosions. Phys. Rev. Lett. 88, 081101 (2002)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  15. Mann, I. Interstellar dust in the Solar System. Annu. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 48, 173–203 (2010)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  16. Beech, M. The past, present and future supernova threat to Earth’s biosphere. Astrophys. Space Sci. 336, 287–302 (2011)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  17. Ruderman, M. A. Possible consequences of nearby supernova explosions for atmospheric ozone and terrestrial life. Science 184, 1079–1081 (1974)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Fitoussi, C. et al. Search for supernova-produced 60Fe in a marine sediment. Phys. Rev. Lett. 101, 121101 (2008)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Stuart, F. M. & Lee, M. R. Micrometeorites and extraterrestrial He in a ferromanganese crust from the Pacific Ocean. Chem. Geol. 322–323, 209–214 (2012)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  20. Basu, S., Stuart, F. M., Schnabel, C. & Klemm, V. Galactic-cosmic-ray-produced 3He in a ferromanganese crust: any supernova 60Fe excess on Earth? Phys. Rev. Lett. 98, 141103 (2007)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Feige, J. et al. AMS measurements of cosmogenic and supernova-ejected radionuclides in deep-sea sediment cores. In Eur. Phys. J. Web Conf. 63, 3003, (2013)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Fimiani, L. et al. Evidence for deposition of interstellar material on the lunar surface. Lunar Planet. Sci. Conf. 45, 1778 (2014)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  23. Ludwig, P. Search for 60Fe of supernova origin in Earth’s microfossil record. PhD thesis, TU Munich (2015)

  24. Woosley, S. E. & Weaver, T. A. The evolution and explosion of massive stars. II. Explosive hydrodynamics and nucleosynthesis. Astrophys. J. Suppl. Ser. 101, 181–235 (1995)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Rauscher, T., Heger, A., Hoffman, R. D. & Woosley, S. E. Nucleosynthesis in massive stars with improved nuclear and stellar physics. Astrophys. J. 576, 323–348 (2002)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Limongi, M. & Chieffi, A. The nucleosynthesis of 26Al and 60Fe in solar metallicity stars extending in mass from 11 to 120 M: the hydrostatic and explosive contributions. Astrophys. J. 647, 483–500 (2006)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. Wanajo, S., Janka, H.-T. & Müller, B. Electron-capture supernovae as sources of 60Fe. Astrophys. J. 774, L6 (2013)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  28. Doherty, C. L., Gil-Pons, P., Lau, H. H. B., Lattanzio, J. C. & Siess, L. Super and massive AGB stars. II. Nucleosynthesis and yields—Z = 0.02, 0.008 and 0.004. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 437, 195–214 (2014)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. Frisch, P. C. et al. The galactic environment of the Sun: interstellar material inside and outside of the heliosphere. Space Sci. Rev. 146, 235–273 (2009)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  30. Farley, K. A., Vokrouhlicky, D., Bottke, W. F. & Nesvorny, D. A late Miocene dust shower from the break-up of an asteroid in the main belt. Nature 439, 295–297 (2006)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  31. Bishop, S. et al. Search for supernova 60Fe in the Earth’s fossil record. Am. Phys. Soc. April Meet. 58, X8.00002, (2013)

    Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was funded by (1) the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), project number I428-N16 and within the ESF Eurogenesis programme; (2) the Australian Research Council (ARC), project number DP14100136; and (3) the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) KAKENHI grant number 26800161. J.F. acknowledges a stipend (Abschlussstipendium) from the University of Vienna. We thank the Antarctic Marine Geology Research Facility, Florida State University, USA (C. Sjunneskog) for providing the sediment cores, P. DeDeckker (ANU) for help in selecting the cores; JOGMEC, Japan for supplying the crust; and P. Martínez Arbizu and M. Türkay for providing the nodules. Stable isotope measurements were performed by A. Ritter and S. Gurlit (HZDR) and V. Guillouat (CEREGE, France). We appreciate the support of M. Fröhlich, S. Akhmadaliev, S. Pavetich, R. Ziegenrücker and P. Collon. We thank M. Lugaro and A. Karakas for information on (super)asymptotic-giant-branch stars and D. Bourlès on dating methods in deep-sea sediments. We thank D. Schumann for providing 60Fe standard material.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



A.W. initiated the study and wrote the main paper together with J.F., M.P. and L.K.F.; all authors were involved in the project and commented on the paper. A.W., with J.F., L.K.F. and S.R.W., organized the Eltanin sediment samples. N.K. and M.P. organized the crust samples. S.M. and U.L. organized the nodules. J.F. and S.M. were primarily responsible for sample preparation of the sediment and nodules and N.K. was responsible for the crusts. A.W., L.K.F. and S.G.T. performed the AMS measurements for 60Fe at the ANU. P.S., S.R.W., J.F. and A.W. performed the 26Al and 10Be measurements at VERA. G.R., S.M. and J.F. performed 10Be measurements at HZDR. N.K., M.H., H.M. and T.Y. performed 10Be measurements at MALT. J.F., A.W. and N.K. performed the data analysis.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to A. Wallner.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Related audio

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Text, Supplementary References, Supplementary Tables 1-8 and Supplementary Figures 1-13. (PDF 2654 kb)

PowerPoint slides

Source data

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Wallner, A., Feige, J., Kinoshita, N. et al. Recent near-Earth supernovae probed by global deposition of interstellar radioactive 60Fe. Nature 532, 69–72 (2016).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing