A study of the materials from the impact crater, led by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, has offered a peek into the very first hours after the asteroid hit the Earth. The rock record sheds light on the catastrophe that killed off the dinosaurs, said Sean Gulick, a research professor at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG) at the Jackson School of Geosciences.
“It’s an expanded record of events that we were able to recover from within ground zero. It tells us about impact processes from an eyewitness location”, he explained.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is based on the findings of the 2016 International Ocean Discovery Program scientific drilling mission, which retrieved material from the crater, and on earlier work of the Jackson School that detailed the quick recovery of life at the impact site, located off what is now the Yucatan Peninsula.
According to a report on the university’s website, after the impact, the crater was filled with a 130-metre-thick layer of material from the surrounding area it. The team found charcoal and rock debris washed into the pit by the subsequent tsunami’s backflow within 24 hours following the strike.
Gulick described the event as day X for our planet, sparking a short-lived inferno at a regional level, with the blast igniting fires and prompting a tsunami that reached what is now the US state of Illinois. However, this was followed by long-lasting global cooling. Although the asteroid, which allegedly had the power of 10 billion atomic bombs like those used in World War II, wiped out an estimated 75% of life, it did not kill off all the giant reptiles immediately, but rather marked the beginning of the end for them.
“We fried them and then we froze them. Not all the dinosaurs died that day, but many dinosaurs did…The real killer has got to be atmospheric. The only way you get a global mass extinction like this is an atmospheric effect”, he noted.
The university’s website points out, citing the study, that the absence of sulphur-rich rocks, which are abundant in the area, in the core of the crater supports the theory that the asteroid strike vaporised minerals containing the chemical. It was then released into the atmosphere, cooling down the climate due to reflecting the sunlight. According to scientists, at least 325 billion tonnes would have been thrown into the atmosphere.
There is serious concern that the dinosaur-killing strike will not be the last catastrophe of this kind on Earth. Greg Leonard, a professor at the University of Otago’s School of Surveying (New Zealand) and senior research specialist at the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey project, recently said that there is a 100 percent possibility of an asteroid hitting Earth. Although he conceded that the chances of being killed by an asteroid are less than dying from a lightning strike, he warned that humankind should not be aloof.
“But I also know that if we do nothing, sooner or later, there’s a one hundred percent chance that one will get us”, he added. “So I feel privileged to be doing something”.