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Dinosaurs Could Have Survived if Killer Asteroid Struck Sooner or a Few Minutes Late

May 16, 2017 11:16 AM EDT
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The fate of the dinosaurs may have different if the extinction level asteroid that killed them struck on a different location or if it collided with the planet a few minutes earlier or a few minutes late.
(Photo : Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

A fatal asteroid impact obliterated dinosaurs from the surface of the planet. But recent studies suggest that the lives of dinosaur species could have been spared from extinction if the asteroid that killed them struck in a different location and a few minutes sooner or a few minutes late.

The study was derived from data collected when researchers drilled into the famous impact crater associated with dinosaur extinction. The quest will be presented in a BBC documentary.

The impact crater from an extinction-level asteroid can be found in the Gulf of Mexico. The area was believed to have suffered from an asteroid impact some 66 million years ago that killed dinosaurs on the planet.

The researchers believe that drilling in the crater and studying sample rocks from the area could explain the event. They say the asteroid struck in the "worst possible place" and at just the right time. The nine-mile wide asteroid struck at the speed of 40,000 mph. The result is an 111-mile crater and a cloud of sulphur cloud blocking the sunlight, according to a report.

The location where the impact crater was found has a colossal amount of sulphur (from gypsum). The element was injected into the atmosphere that prolonged the "global winter" followed by a devastating firestorm. This led some experts to conclude that if the asteroid struck in a different location, or if the collision occurred minutes earlier or a few minutes late the outcome would be much different.

"This is where we get to the great irony of the story -- because in the end, it wasn't the size of the asteroid, the scale of blast, or even its global reach that made dinosaurs extinct -- it was where the impact happened," Ben Garrod, who presents The Day The Dinosaurs Died with Alice Roberts said in an interview with BBC. "Had the asteroid struck a few moments earlier or later, rather than hitting shallow coastal waters it might have hit the deep ocean.

He added that hitting the Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic would prevent the proliferation of deadly gypsum. The extended winter won't be possible then because the cloud would be less dense allowing sunlight to still reach the Earth.

"In this cold, dark world food ran out of the oceans within a week and shortly after on land. With nothing to eat anywhere on the planet, the mighty dinosaurs stood little chance of survival," Garrod added.

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