A snapshot in time: Life on earth minutes after the asteroid hit

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66 million years ago, an asteroid about 7.5 miles wide crashed into the earth, created a huge crater, and wiped out much of life on earth. This is in an area of Mexico that is now called Chicxulub, part of the Yucatan peninsula.

We know this happened, because iridium is very rare on earth, but not on asteroids and meteorites, and there’s a layer of rock underneath the earth’s surface that is rich in iridium. So it is thought that it was deposited there at the time of impact. The asteroid crashed into oil-rich rocks in the area, which helped to further the explosion that then tore apart the earth’s crust. The aftershocks then hurled up the matter in the air. This was cooled high up in the atmosphere, and made tiny beads of glass, called tektites.

This is what came splashing down like rain in different areas, including in Tanis, North Dakota and helped, along with all the rest of the upheaval, to destroy life on earth as the dinosaurs knew it. This one disaster completely changed the ecosystem on earth, and together with other forces, created an atmosphere that later allowed mammals a fighting chance. The rest, as they say, is history!

It was reported last week, that scientists have found and investigated a whole area in North Dakota, USA, called Tanis, which has pristinely preserved fossils from the moments right after the asteroid hit. They have published these findings in a scientific journal. These are fossils of entire creatures that breathed in the ash, glass and sediment that was raining down around them. It is the largest such find and has given scientists a whole lot of material to study and understand about the world that existed before humans made this our playground.

This is what the lead author on this study had to say about the find: “Essentially, what we’ve got there is the geologic equivalent of high-speed film of the very first moments after the impact.”


Written by: Sunaina Murthy. Sunaina is a biotechnologist, writer, greedy reader, and amateur photographer.

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