Which nuclear phenomena would cause ALL life on a planet to die out (bacteria, animals, plants, fungi, EVERYTHING) but still allow the planet to recover to a state where it is habitable again? (albeit thousands or hundreds of thousands of years)

I'm thinking a massive burst of radiation, but what would cause such an event?

Note: - It's preferable if the event would allow for fossils and bones to remain. - The planet is earth-like and by a habitable state, I mean that it could support higher life forms, such as humans.

  • $\begingroup$ Pretty sure this is duplicate $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode Feb 17 '15 at 9:58
  • $\begingroup$ @ArtOfCode I don't think it's a duplicate of that one, I'm sure we do have a dupe somewhere though but don't have time to look right now. Maybe in the related questions sidebar? -> $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 17 '15 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ The second word should probably be nuclear. "Natular" could also be natural, but I'm going to edit to the first based on the radiation comments. $\endgroup$ – Mourdos Feb 17 '15 at 10:24
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with TimB @ArtOfCode, this isn't a duplicate of the above. This question is about resetting life on a planet, rather than destroying it. $\endgroup$ – Mourdos Feb 17 '15 at 10:29
  • $\begingroup$ weird, I just wrote a question on a similar idea, but smaller scale - been thinking about it all day... $\endgroup$ – user3082 Feb 17 '15 at 10:36

Honestly, considering how resilient life is, this would be really, really hard.

Especially as a natural event; most things that immediately spring to mind are either slow enough that life will probably adapt or so devastating that the planet won't recover for millions of years or longer.

There is one thing that might be considered devestating enough to clean a planet of life, without permanently destroying it or the enviroment of the planet.

The passing of a nearby Rogue star. These stars are not bound to a galaxy, but move freely through space. They are very fast, very hot, and sweep throughout the universe. If one of them were to pass near a solar system, it would severely (but very temporarily) destabilize the orbits of its planets, mess with gravity (probably causing intense earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters), suddenly expose the planet to an incredible overdose of solar energy (which might cook alive everything on the surface) and have any number of other of terrifying effects on the planet depending on the kind of star.

But ultimatly, unless the star were to pass so close that it drags the planet entirely out of orbit, it would return to its regular orbit and the effects of the star's passing will be restored.

I'm not sure if this would wipe out all life, but it would certainly clean the surface and might have enough of an effect on the atmosphere that it makes the rest of the planet uninhabitable long enough to deal with whatever still survives underground.

(Especially bacteria and virusses will be a bitch to deal with, those things are really hard to get rid of)

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm starting to wonder if one of the less common astrological phenomena would work for this purpose: A rogue neutron star/pulsar, however unlikely. Gravitational disturbance with a side dish of EM radiation. As for recovering for millions of years or longer, that's fine. $\endgroup$ – Jarmund Feb 17 '15 at 11:17

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