What happened when the dinosaur-killing asteroid slammed into Earth?

Hidden under the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the Chicxulub crater marks the influence web site of an asteroid that struck Earth 66 million years in the past. The most consequential final result of this cataclysmic occasion was the fifth mass extinction, which worn out about 80% of all animal species, together with the nonavian dinosaurs

But what actually happened when the asteroid collided with Earth? 

By finding out the geology each at Chicxulub and worldwide, scientists have pieced collectively what happened that horrible day and the years following it. 

Related: How long do most species last before going extinct?

Even earlier than the asteroid hit, it was primed for decimation, colliding with Earth at the most damaging angle, based on a 2020 research revealed in Nature Communications. The asteroid was about 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) in diameter and was touring about 27,000 mph (43,000 km/h) when it created a 124-mile-wide (200 km) scar on the planet’s floor, mentioned Sean Gulick, a analysis professor at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, who led the research. More importantly, the asteroid struck the planet at about 60 levels above the horizon. This angle was significantly damaging as a result of it allowed the asteroid’s influence to eject a considerable amount of mud and aerosols into the ambiance. 

Gulick pointed to his colleague’s evidence in the area to assist the simulations for the angled hit, together with the asymmetrical construction of the crater, the place of upwarped (bent upward) mantle rocks, the distinctive sediment sequences in cores gathered from the area and, particularly, the absence of a definite sort of rock, referred to as evaporites, in the cores, like halite and gypsum.

Gulick’s workforce estimated that the influence would have vaporized the evaporite rocks, sending 325 gigatons of sulfur in the type of sulfur aerosols, in addition to 435 gigatons of carbon dioxide, into the ambiance.

The materials thrown into the ambiance consisted largely of pulverized rock and droplets of sulfuric acid, which got here from sulfate-rich marine rocks, referred to as anhydrite, that vaporized throughout the asteroid strike, based on a 2014 research revealed in the journal Nature Geoscience. This cloud of microscopic materials created a shroud round the planet, decreasing incoming solar warmth and lightweight. The ensuing long-term cooling drastically altered the planet’s local weather. A 2016 research in the journal Geophysical Research Letters discovered that the common temperature in the tropics plummeted from 81 levels Fahrenheit (27 levels Celsius) to 41 F (5 C). As incoming daylight dimmed, photosynthesis waned and the base of the meals chain on land and in the ocean collapsed, bringing down the dinosaurs and lots of different animals.

Meanwhile, the airborne sulfuric acid led to lethal acid rain that rained for days following the influence, killing numerous marine animals dwelling in the higher components of oceans, in addition to in lakes and rivers, the 2014 research discovered. 

The influence additionally triggered large tsunamis, shallow water waves that propagated by Earth’s oceans. The wave initially reached practically 1 mile (1.5 km) excessive and traveled 89 mph (143 km/h), and different waves reached large heights, together with as much as 46 ft (15 m) in the Atlantic Ocean and 13 ft (4 m) in the North Pacific Ocean, according to modeling research. What’s extra, depositional proof from the large waves is preserved in the sediment document round Louisiana. A 3D seismic survey of the geology below Louisiana revealed lengthy, asymmetrical 52-feet-tall (16 m) mega ripples that time again to the influence web site in the Gulf.

And fires raged

The pulverized rock and ash cascading again to the floor after the influence additionally ignited a series of wildfires that researchers likened to a broiler igniting dry tinder. The further smoke and ash doubtless contributed to the cooling shroud, additional decreasing incoming daylight.


It’s straightforward for geologists to see when the asteroid hit when they study rock layers; in rocks round the world courting to the finish of the Cretaceous period 66 million years in the past, there is a skinny layer of clay enriched with iridium, a component uncommon on Earth however widespread amongst space rocks, a landmark 1980 research revealed in the journal Science discovered. But whereas different spectacular occasions, together with wildfires and tsunamis, seize the creativeness, Gulick believes the larger deal was modifications in Earth’s ambiance, the place the ghastly shroud led to cooling that lasted for greater than a decade. 

“The only way to make a mass extinction event is to mess with something that affects the entire planet,” he mentioned. “Here you have direct evidence of that happening.”

Originally revealed on Live Science.

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