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    'Minute Difference' In Deadly Asteroid's Trajectory Could Have Saved Dinosaurs

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    The asteroid impact which killed the dinosaurs would not have had the same devastating impact had it landed elsewhere on Earth, according to a new study which compares the probability of extinction at different possible sites of an asteroid strike.

    Scientists believe that a mass extinction of animals, including the dinosaurs, occurred after a 9-kilometer wide asteroid struck the Earth 66 million years ago. The event created the Chicxulub crater in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and ended the Cretaceous Period of the Earth's history.

    The impact heated hydrocarbon and sulfur in the Earth's rocks and caused masses of soot and sulfate particles to be released into the stratosphere. Thiscooled the climate by 8-10 degrees Celsius and led to the extinction of three-quarters of all species on Earth, including non-avian dinosaurs and animals which lived in warm water. Cold-water dwelling animals such as crocodiles survived the event.

    Chicxulub Crater, Mexico
    © Photo : Wikipedia
    Chicxulub Crater, Mexico
    According to a new study by researchers at the Japanese Meteorological Research Institute and Tohoku University, the asteroid site had an unusually high concentration of hydrocarbons and sulfur in comparison with most other places on Earth, meaning that its impact was more deadly than it would have been had it struck somewhere else.

    "The probability of mass extinction occurring after an asteroid that could hit a random location on the Earth’s surface was approximately 13% when the Chicxulub-scale asteroid hit the Earth," Kunio Kaiho and Naga Oshima wrote in their paper, published in the journal Scientific Reports.

    They found that soot is "likely to have been more important than sulfate as a cause of mass extinction," and that hydrocarbon-rich areas comprise just 13% of the Earth's surface. Areas which are rich in hydrocarbons and sulfur comprise just 1% of the Earth's surface.

    According to the scientists' model, mass extinction only occurred when the 9-km diameter asteroid hit the areas colored in orange on the map
    Kunio Kaiho
    According to the scientists' model, mass extinction only occurred when the 9-km diameter asteroid hit the areas colored in orange on the map

    At the time of the impact, "these hydrocarbon-rich areas were marine coastal margins, where the productivity of marine algae was generally high and sedimentary rocks were thickly deposited. Therefore, these areas contain a high amount of organic matter, part of which becomes soot with the heat of an impact."

    As a result, a minute change in the asteroid's trajectory might have been enough to avert the mass extinction.

    "The history of life on Earth could have varied, then, according to impact site, and depended on minute differences in the orbital forcing of asteroids … If the asteroid had hit a low–medium hydrocarbon area on Earth, mass extinction could not have occurred and the Mesozoic biota (plant and animal life) could have persisted," the researchers wrote.

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    Tags:
    mass extinction, extinction, crater, impact, asteroid, dinosaur
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