Technology

Here’s what happened on the day an asteroid hit Earth and killed the dinosaurs

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: 9-SEP-2019 15:00 ET (9-SEP-2019 19:00 GMT/UTC) This is an artist's interpretation of the asteroid impact. The asteroid in the artwork appears much larger than the six-mile rock that scientists hypothesize actually struck the Earth 66 million years ago. Nevertheless, the image nicely illuminates the heat generated as the asteroid rapidly compresses upon impact and the vacuum in its wake. See NATIONAL story NNasteroids. The death of the dinosaurs has been explained in unprecedented detail after scientists drilled almost a mile into the crater left by the asteroid that wiped them out. Rocks were dug out that are 'time capsules' of the day a giant asteroid smashed into Earth 66 million years ago. They contained bits of charcoal, granite and other sediments that were were washed in by a towering 300 feet tsunami. It's the most definitive evidence to date of the sheer scale of the wildfires and giant waves that devastated the planet. Professor Sean Gulick, a geoscientist at The University of Texas at Austin, said: "They are all part of a rock record that offers the most detailed look yet into the aftermath of the catastrophe that ended the Age of Dinosaurs." Three quarters of animal species were wiped out - including the largest ever land animals. Some were burned alive or drowned - but most shivered and starved to death. The impact blasted so much sulphur into the atmosphere it blocked out the sun, say the British and US led team.

A new study has revealed the true horror of a cataclysm which wiped out 75% of life on Earth. (Photo: Nasa / Don Davis / SWNS)

Scientists have revealed what happened on the day the dinosaurs died.

A new study has uncovered the after-effects of an asteroid impact which wiped out 75% of life on the planet.

Scientists analysed rocks which filled the gigantic impact crater left by the doomsday space rock, which caused an explosion equivalent to 10 billion of the nuclear bombs which destroyed Hiroshima in World War II.

A new study led by The University of Texas at Austin has revealed that hundreds of feet of rocks that filled the crater at ‘Ground Zero’ within the first 24 hours after impact.

Sean Gulick, a research professor at Institute for Geophysics within the Jackson School of Geosciences, said: ‘It’s an expanded record of events that we were able to recover from within ground zero.

‘It tells us about impact processes from an eyewitness location.’

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: 9-SEP-2019 15:00 ET (9-SEP-2019 19:00 GMT/UTC) A portion of the drilled cores from the rocks that filled the crater left by the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. Scientists found melted and broken rocks such as sandstone, limestone and granite -- but no sulfur-bearing minerals, despite the area's high concentration of sulfur containing rocks. This finding suggests that the impact vaporized these rocks forming sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere, causing cooling on the global scale. See NATIONAL story NNasteroids. The death of the dinosaurs has been explained in unprecedented detail after scientists drilled almost a mile into the crater left by the asteroid that wiped them out. Rocks were dug out that are 'time capsules' of the day a giant asteroid smashed into Earth 66 million years ago. They contained bits of charcoal, granite and other sediments that were were washed in by a towering 300 feet tsunami. It's the most definitive evidence to date of the sheer scale of the wildfires and giant waves that devastated the planet. Professor Sean Gulick, a geoscientist at The University of Texas at Austin, said: "They are all part of a rock record that offers the most detailed look yet into the aftermath of the catastrophe that ended the Age of Dinosaurs." Three quarters of animal species were wiped out - including the largest ever land animals. Some were burned alive or drowned - but most shivered and starved to death. The impact blasted so much sulphur into the atmosphere it blocked out the sun, say the British and US led team.

A portion of the drilled cores from the rocks that filled the crater left by the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs (Source: IODP / SWNS)

Most of the material that filled the crater within hours of impact was produced at the impact site, the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, or was carried in by seawater pouring in from the surrounding Gulf of Mexico.

A mammoth 425 feet of material (130 metres) gathered in the crater over 24 hours – a rate that’s among the highest ever discovered on Earth.

Gulick described the cataclysm as ‘a short-lived inferno at the regional level, followed by a long period of global cooling’.

‘We fried them and then we froze them,’ he said.

‘Not all the dinosaurs died that day, but many dinosaurs did.’

The blast set light to trees and plants thousands of miles away from Ground Zero and triggered a massive tsunami.

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: 9-SEP-2019 15:00 ET (9-SEP-2019 19:00 GMT/UTC) Sean Gulick, a research professor at The University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences (right) and lead author of the study, with co-author Joanna Morgan, a professor at Imperial College London, on the International Ocean Discovery Program research expedition that retrieved cores from the submerged and buried impact crater. Gulick and Morgan co-led the expedition in 2016. See NATIONAL story NNasteroids. The death of the dinosaurs has been explained in unprecedented detail after scientists drilled almost a mile into the crater left by the asteroid that wiped them out. Rocks were dug out that are 'time capsules' of the day a giant asteroid smashed into Earth 66 million years ago. They contained bits of charcoal, granite and other sediments that were were washed in by a towering 300 feet tsunami. It's the most definitive evidence to date of the sheer scale of the wildfires and giant waves that devastated the planet. Professor Sean Gulick, a geoscientist at The University of Texas at Austin, said: "They are all part of a rock record that offers the most detailed look yet into the aftermath of the catastrophe that ended the Age of Dinosaurs." Three quarters of animal species were wiped out - including the largest ever land animals. Some were burned alive or drowned - but most shivered and starved to death. The impact blasted so much sulphur into the atmosphere it blocked out the sun, say the British and US led team.

Sean Gulick, a research professor at The University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences (right) and lead author of the study, with co-author Joanna Morgan, a professor at Imperial College London (Source: University of Texas / SWNS)

Inside the crater, researchers found charcoal and a traces of fungi which suggests ‘the charred landscape was pulled into the crater with the receding waters of the tsunami’.

Jay Melosh, a Purdue University professor who was not involved in the study, said: ‘It was a momentous day in the history of life, and this is a very clear documentation of what happened at ground zero.’

The study supports a theory which suggests the impact vaporised minerals containing sulphur and dispersed them into the atmosphere, where it reflected sunlight and cooled the planet and made it impossible for most lifeforms to survive.

‘The real killer has got to be atmospheric,’ Gulick added.

‘The only way you get a global mass extinction like this is an atmospheric effect.’

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