Tech UPTechnologyThe meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs

The meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs

Today no one doubts that dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago due to a huge asteroid that crashed into Earth.

Probably, the study that settled possible controversies was the one published in Science in 2010, an international panel of experts from Europe, the United States, Mexico, Canada and Japan. Scientists came to this conclusion after reviewing 20 years of evidence about what may have caused the Great Dying in the Cretaceous, which wiped out more than half of all species on the planet at the time, including dinosaurs.

However, today some researchers continue to point out that, although there is sufficient evidence to confirm that such an impact existed, the asteroid could trigger a series of chain reactions that led to this mass extinction. That is to say, although produced by a cataclysm, extinctions never occur overnight, but occupy long processes lasting thousands of years.

What do we know about the asteroid that unleashed hell on Earth 65 million years ago?

It appears that a large rock about 15 kilometers wide crashed in what is now Chicxulub, Mexico. According to experts, a rock should have a minimum width of 10 kilometers in diameter (approximately the height of passenger planes) to cause a cataclysm on Earth capable of annihilating most species. Although we are bombarded every day by small fragments of rocks from the solar system that enter the atmosphere, they usually arrive on Earth very small, or not large enough to do any significant damage. But scientists are clear that a similar catastrophe must happen, statistically, sooner or later.

Impact characteristics

If a rock 15 kilometers in diameter hit the Earth today, it would sweep several kilometers around in seconds; it would raise the depth of the sea forming monstrous tidal waves; and it would form a cloud of dust that would cover the Sun for tens, or hundreds of years. Can you imagine a similar scenario today? 65 million years ago, Cretaceous animals experienced this nightmare firsthand.

Scientists estimate that the asteroid hit Earth with a force one billion times greater than that of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs. This impact, which left a crater 200 kilometers in diameter, would have launched material into the atmosphere at high speed, unleashing a series of events that caused a global winter, destroying much of life on Earth in a matter of days. In addition, the impact caused tsunamis throughout the planet and earthquakes greater than 10 on the Richter scale.

The volcano theory

For years, some scientists continued to believe that dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and other species became extinct 65 million years ago due to a series of volcanic eruptions in present-day India, lasting about 1.5 million years. The eruptions of the Deccan Traps (unusually active volcanoes) spewed enough basalt lava to fill the Black Sea twice, which could have caused a cooling of the atmosphere and acid rain on a global scale.

However, this hypothesis does not have to be contrary to that of the asteroid impact. In fact, they could be complementary hypotheses. A study published in early 2019 points out how the impact itself could cause ‘simultaneous’ eruptions on the other side of the world (Mexico and India are practically antipodes to each other).

According to tests, marine and terrestrial ecosystems were rapidly destroyed in the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction, which does not fit with the volcano theory. But there is also strong evidence that gases emitted during post-impact eruptions could have been the cause of global warming in the last 400,000 years of the Cretaceous.

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