Dark matter, the hypothetical matter that cannot be observed using telescopes but is believed to be responsible for huge gravitational effects in the universe, could be indirectly responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs, according to one New York University professor.

Michael Rampino, a biology instructor at the Manhattan-based institution, explained that Earth’s infrequent but predictable journey around and through the Milky Way’s galactic disc could take it through regions of concentrated dark matter. Exposure to that dark matter may have a direct and significant impact on both the geology of the planet and its biological phenomena.

Rampino, who has published his findings in the latest edition of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, concluded that movement through these regions could disturb the orbits of comets and cause the Earth’s core to become hotter. Either one of those phenomena could be linked to mass extinction events like the one that caused dinosaurs to become extinct.

Timing is everything

The galactic disc is the part of the Milky Way where our solar system resides, and it is crowded with stars and clouds of gas and dust – as well as a concentrated amount of those small, elusive particles known as dark matter. Previous studies have indicated that the Earth rotates around the disc once every 250 million years, but it takes a wavy path around the galaxy.

By analyzing the pattern of the Earth’s different passes through the disc, the NYU professor said that they appear to correlate with times of comet impacts and mass extinction events. The comet impact that led to the death of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago is one of those events, he noted. Rampino set out to discover why there was a link between these two phenomena.

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