Scientists in the Gulf of Mexico recently drilled into the impact crater that is thought to be from the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. Using a drilling rig stationed 30km off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the team of scientists were able to recover core samples from up to 1,300m (4265 feet) beneath the gulf. By analyzing these samples, the scientists were better able to understand the effects of the asteroid and the damage it wrought on the earth.
During their study, it quickly became clear that the asteroid hit the worst place it possibly could. While the 15km-wide asteroid that hit the earth some 66 million years ago isn’t by any means normally a planet killer, this one managed to hit perhaps the one place that would that could cause maximum global damage.
At the impact site, a shallow sea covers an area that contains large quantities of the mineral gypsum. As the asteroid slammed into the coastal waters it vaporized this gypsum, which resulted in massive amounts of sulfur being pumped into the atmosphere. This caused, after the initial firestorm, a prolonged global winter which is then hypothesized to have wiped out the dinosaurs.
Speaking to the BBC, Ben Garrod (who hosts BBC’s The Day The Dinosaur Died) stated that;
“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.”
If the asteroid had hit the earth 30 seconds earlier or later, it may have hit deep ocean waters. This would have led to less vaporized rock being thrown into the atmosphere, and the prehistoric world could have continued on as it had up to that time.
With the asteroid’s impact, the vast amounts of sulfur injected into the atmosphere would have blocked out the sun, killing off the ocean’s food supplies within a week. Soon after, the same would have happened on land, thus starving the dinosaurs to death. It’s a scary and all too real scenario for us here on present day earth. If and when another asteroid hits, the location of its impact may mean the future or end of our civilization.