Geologists Find Clues In Crater Left By Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid
by Goeff Brumfiel / NPR
Scientists have had a literal breakthrough off the coast of Mexico.
After weeks of drilling from an offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico, they have reached rocks left over from the day the Earth was hit by a killer asteroid.
The cataclysm is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs. “This was probably the most important event in the last 100 million years,” says Joanna Morgan, a geophysicist at Imperial College in London and a leader of the expedition.
Since the 1980s, researchers have known about the impact site, located near the present-day Yucatan Peninsula. Known as Chicxulub, the crater is approximately 125 miles across. It was created when an asteroid the size of Staten Island, N.Y., struck Earth around 66 million years ago. The initial explosion from the impact would have made a nuclear bomb look like a firecracker. The searing heat started wildfires many hundreds of miles away.
After that, came an unscheduled winter. Sulfur, ash and debris clouded the sky. Darkness fell and, for a while, Earth was not itself.
“I think it was a bad few months, really,” Morgan says.
That’s an understatement: Scientists believe 75 percent of life went extinct during this dark chapter in Earth’s history, including the dinosaurs.
Researchers have sampled Chicxulub before, but this expedition by the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling precisely targets a key part of the crater yet to be studied: a ring of mountains left by the asteroid.