We Finally Know What Killed the Dinosaurs—It Wasn't Just an Asteroid
You might think we know what killed the dinosaurs—but you're dead wrong. Apparently, it wasn't just an asteroid that turned them into fossil fuel.
Most people are convinced the dinosaurs were wiped out as the result of an asteroid crashing down on the planet, dramatically changing the local weather environments.
This has made us more than a little anxious whenever a giant space rock finds its way into our general vicinity. A recent test of the Earth's emergency warning system for giant asteroid collisions shows that we're not exactly eager to suffer the same fate as the giant turkey lizards that once ruled the roost.
However, it turns out our fears of an asteroid collision killing off our species might be unfounded—according to a new study conducted by researchers from Tohoku University and Japan's Meteorological Research Institute, we might have nothing to worry about. While the Earth getting hit by a giant space rock isn't anything to get excited about, there's only a slim chance that such a collision would actually cause an extinction-level event.
According to the research, giant asteroids of the kind that killed off the dinosaurs only hit Earth once every hundred million years—hardly a common occurrence. Even when they do hit, the majority of these impacts shouldn't destroy the planet entirely. Unfortunately, when the dino-killer asteroid hit Earth, it did so in exactly the wrong place.
It's commonly agreed that the site of the devastating collision is near the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. According to the new study, when the asteroid crashed down, it lit up large seas of crude oil in the region, starting a massive oil fire that would have raged for a long time.
As the fire burned, it sent masses of ash and soot into the air, clouding the planet's entire atmosphere, and darkening the skies. It was these large clouds of smoke that altered the weather, cooled the planet, killed off local flora, and forced the dinosaurs to evolve or die.
The real reason for their demise was a gigantic oil fire, and had this never been lit, we might still have giant monsters roaming the Earth to this very day.
According to the study, only around 13 percent of the planet at the time of the collision had enough stores of flammable material to cause such an enormous fire. Had the asteroid hit almost anywhere else, it wouldn't have done nearly as much damage.
It is worth pointing out that this study is not exactly accepted as truth by all experts in the field.
Many question whether the simulations run as part of this research are completely accurate, or if they give undue weight to the power of the soot and ash that entered the atmosphere at the time. Drilling that's taken place in the crater that was left by the catastrophic asteroid hasn't shown nearly enough soot residue for the kinds of levels that the study suggests was released into the atmosphere.
There was a lot more going on at the time of the asteroid collision than just soot, claim some experts. Chunks of debris would have rained down around the whole planet for months afterwards, seas dramatically changed pH balance causing acidity levels that melted aquatic life, and gases such as sulfur entered the atmosphere.
Plus, the collision lead to a 26 Celsius drop in temperature over the next five years, destroying the dinosaurs' balmy environment and killing off an awful lot of animals and plants.
Paleontologists will continue to debate the specifics of why the dinosaurs died out, but one thing seems to be universally agreed on: an asteroid was involved, it landed near Mexico, and it's not an experience that we're eager to see Earth go through again.