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Asteroid That Killed Dinosaurs Was a Worst-Case Scenario; Timely as Asteroids Head Towards Earth

Original artwork depicting the moment the asteroid struck in present-day Mexico. (Image: Chase Stone)

Original artwork depicting the moment the asteroid struck in present-day Mexico. (Image: Chase Stone)

Scientists believe that the dinosaur killing asteroid hit earth at an angle of 60 degrees, wich significantly increased the amount of climate-changing gases released into the atmosphere, blocking sunlight, rapidly cooling down the climate and killing off photosynthesis.

Just yesterday, we were hit with the news that three monster asteroids are heading towards earth this month (Read more here). If 2020 couldn’t get any worse, you thought. Well, now we have some more asteroid related updates, perhaps not the sort that would instill a lot of confidence in general. But does any asteroid related news ever do? Nevertheless, it turns out that the massive asteroid that is believed to have killed all the dinosaurs all those years ago became even more potent in its destruction because of the angle at which it hit earth. It is believed the asteroid was travelling at a speed of around 20 kilometers per second.

Scientists and researchers have reason to believe that the dinosaur killing asteroid hit earth at an angle of 60 degrees. Which significantly increased the amount of climate-changing gases released into the atmosphere, blocking sunlight, rapidly cooling down the climate and killing off photosynthesis. Professor Gareth Collins of the Imperial College London lead a team of researchers, used 3D numerical simulations and geophysical data from the site of the asteroid to determine how the crater, known as Chicxulub, was created. They believe the asteroid struck the Earth at an angle of about 60 degrees, which maximized the amount of climate-changing gases to enter the atmosphere. The team included scientists from the University of Freiburg and the University of Texas.

"For the dinosaurs, the worst-case scenario is exactly what happened. The asteroid strike unleashed an incredible amount of climate-changing gases into the atmosphere, triggering a chain of events that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. This was likely worsened by the fact that it struck at one of the deadliest possible angles,” says Professor Collins. He says that the simulations provide for compelling evidence that the asteroid struck at a steep angle, perhaps 60 degrees above the horizon, and approached its target from the north-east. This is believed to be the worst-case scenarios for the lethality on impact, because it put more hazardous debris into the upper atmosphere and scattered it everywhere, something that led to what can be described as a nuclear winter.

“Despite being buried beneath nearly a kilometre of sedimentary rocks, it is remarkable that geophysical data reveals so much about the crater structure - enough to describe the direction and angle of the impact,” says Dr Auriol Rae of the University of Freiburg, co-author of the research.

The scientists say that the upper layers of earth around the Chicxulub crater in present-day Mexico contain high amounts of water as well as porous carbonate and evaporite rocks. When heated and disturbed by the impact, such as that of a fast travelling asteroid, these rocks can potentially decompose and release massive quantities of carbon dioxide, sulphur and water vapour into the atmosphere. They say that sulphur has the tendency to rapidly forms aerosols, which are tiny particles, and these would have blocked much of, if not all of the sun’s rays from reaching the earth’s surface. This would have meant rapid cooling of the climate on earth, and also killing photosynthesis. These scenarios led to mass extinction, killing as much as 75% of life on earth.