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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Correspondence to A. Wallner.

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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).

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