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Scientists May Soon Solve Mystery of Dino-Killing Asteroid

Apr 13, 2015 01:27 PM EDT
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Humans to blame for 'biological annihilation' of wildlife and sixth mass extinction in Earth's history

About 65 million years ago, an asteroid crash supposedly wiped out all the dinosaurs on Earth. Now, scientists may soon finally solve the mystery behind this dino-killing crash.

According to Live Science, scientists plan to drill 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) below the surface of the Chicxulub crater in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula to bring up a giant core. Even though experts have believed in this theory for decades, and have known about the site of the supposed space-rock event, this would be the first offshore core ever taken from near the center of the crater.

The drilling project is scheduled to start in spring 2016.

"The Chicxulub impact crater has been a remarkable scientific opportunity for the 20 years since it's been discovered," Sean Gulick, of The University of Texas at Austin Institute for Geophysics, told Live Science.

By sampling there, the researchers can get a clearer picture of ancient biological and geological processes. This has only just recently been possible because for the first time, scientists have subsurface images from the offshore part of the crater, so they can pinpoint a spot for sampling.

After observing the entire 125-mile-wide (200 kilometers) Chicxulub crater, they chose a spot along its peak ring - a ring of mountain-like structures around the center of the crater.

Scientists believe that when a space-rock smashes into Earth at extremely fast speeds, the collision causes the crust to temporarily act like a liquid. First, it forms a so-called transient crater - sort of like an indent - and the center rebounds, or splashes, upward and then outward.

"We think the peak ring is the record of the material that rebounded and splashed outward," Gulick explained.

However, it should be pointed out that this is just a theory, and it has never been proven. However, the researchers hope this drilling project may unearth evidence to support this widely held theory.

What's more, Chicxulub is also the only impact crater on Earth linked to a mass extinction event. Thus, any obtained samples could shed light on the impact that doomed the dinosaurs (potentially with the help of volcanoes and disease), and any subsequent events.

For example, more recent layers of rock could yield traces of life, which would provide clues about how long it took for life to return to the area.

A recent study even indicated that the dinosaur death impact may have killed more mammals than originally thought, and actually helped ancient forests bloom - despite the harsh conditions.

The $10 million project is a collaboration between the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (part of the International Ocean Discovery Program) and the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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