Angling for More
Alina McGregor discusses a new study concerning the angle of the dinosaur-destroying asteroid impact
Using a combination of 3D impact simulations and geophysical data from the site of a 66 million-year-old impact crater, scientists from Imperial College London have constructed a simluation that shows that there was another factor in play that affected the annihilation of dinosaurs, and 75% of all life on earth, during the Cretaceous period.
Published in Nature, they show how the angle at which the asteroid hit the earth increased the amount of climate changing gases that were released into the atmosphere. One of the main gases that would have been released is sulphur, which then would have formed aerosols- tiny particles that block the sun’s rays faltering photosynthesis in plants and triggering nuclear winter.
The angle at which [the asteroid] hit the earth increase the amount of climate changing gases… released into the atmosphere
The lead researcher of this project, Professor Gareth Collins, labelled it as the worst possible scenario, coming from the north-east at 60 degrees above the horizon. This event would have triggered a chain reaction that, in combination with other events at the time such as the enormous volcanic eruptions in India, would likely have been responsible for the wipe-out.
The lead researcher… labelled it as the worst possible scenario
The 200 km wide ‘Chicxulub crater’ that has given researchers new information on the outcome of the impact is located in present day Mexico. When drilling into the crater, researchers found evidence in the rocks of the dangerous forces generated by the impact. As well as proof of the intensity of impact, they also analysed the crater centre and formation in unique detail. Never before have simulations replicated the final stages of the impact.
Despite happening 66 million years ago, the dinosaur extinction has stayed strong in the public’s mind. By analysing how large craters formed on our planet, we can start to understand how they form on other planets. Even though analysing just one site will not answer all our questions about the extinction, it will give us a better picture of our planet’s history.