Grant to Study Terrestrial Impact of Nearby Supernovae
Physics professor Andrew Overholt, PhD, learned last week that he and two colleagues will receive a $500,000 NASA Exobiology grant over three years to study the “Terrestrial Impact of Nearby Supernovae.” MNU’s portion of the grant is $150,000 which will be used to support the research, obtain additional computing equipment and fund a student research assistant.
“This is the kind of research we encourage our students to seek out over the summer at other research facilities,” Overholt says. “It is exciting to get to have it here at MNU for a top science student.”
Overholt conducts research with University of Kansas Professor Adrian Melott, PhD, and Brian Thomas, PhD, of Washburn University in a group they have named the KU Astrophysics Biology Working Group. The new research is in a relatively “untouched area” according to Overholt.
“No one has studied all of the effects there would be on Earth of a nearby supernova,” he says. “Nearby in this instance would be about 10 parsecs or 30 light years.”
A supernova occurs when large stars run out of fuel and collapse, this collapse then leads to a large explosion. Overholt says this happens very frequently because there are hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy. But statistically they do not happen very close to Earth. A recent study shows that Earth has experienced a nearby supernova in the distant past.
Evidence of “supernova dust” was found in a mud core sample at the bottom of the ocean. Overholt says that a rare iron isotope found in this dust and eaten by bacteria was found in bacteria skeletons which were trapped in the sea floor. Scans of the mud core found the iron deposits proving the supernova dust was there.