More than 66 million years ago, an asteroid the size of Mount Everest hit the Earth and sent up clouds, blotting out the sun and killing many creatures living on the planet. New research suggests that this asteroid that killed the dinosaurs came at the deadliest angle possible.
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Scientists discover new evidence to suggest asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs hit the Earth at the deadliest angle possible
Scientists recently unearthed new evidence about the asteroid that almost wiped out the world's population 66 million years ago. The burning cloud that erupted from the crater obliterated everything within hundreds of miles, triggering a "nuclear winter" that eventually wiped out the dinosaurs and other living creatures on the planet. If the asteroid's approach had been shallower or steeper, there would be a whole different outcome.
Dr. Gareth Collins from the Imperial College London led the first 3D computer simulation of the impact. According to Collins, "For the dinosaurs, the worst-case scenario is exactly what happened."
The impact site left a 1200-mile-wide crater that vaporized rock and sent billions of tons of sulfur and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during the prehistoric era. This started a change in the planet's climate almost instantaneously, causing temperatures to plunge and acid rain to fall, which resulted in over 75% of life being extinguished.
"This was likely worsened by the fact it struck at one of the deadliest possible angles. Our simulations provide compelling evidence the asteroid struck at a steep angle -- perhaps 60 degrees above the horizon -- and approached its target from the north-east. We know this was among the worst-case scenarios for the lethality on impact because it put more hazardous debris into the upper atmosphere and scattered it everywhere -- the very thing that led to a nuclear winter," said Collins.
How did they come up with the simulation?
Collins and his colleagues used a model that considered different angles of the asteroid's trajectory. They used the geophysical data from the impact site from millions of years ago called Chixculub to replicate the whole event into the simulation.
They also included recent results from an offshore drilling expedition that was able to bring up rocks containing evidence of the extreme forces that were generated at the time. The aim was to find out the angle and direction of the impact and its relation between the centers of the crater and its "peak ring." A peak ring is a circle of heavily-fractured mountains located inside the rime and mantle rocks sent 20 miles underground.
The angle of the asteroid that hit the Earth was almost 60 degrees. It was the worst possible angle that could cause maximum catastrophic damage.
Dr. Auriol Rae of the University of Freiburg in Germany said. "Despite being buried beneath nearly a kilometer (0.62 miles) of sedimentary rocks, it is remarkable geophysical data reveals so much about the crater structure -- enough to describe the direction and angle of the impact."