The Chicxulub Crater Sensation
Asteroids are some of the most destructive forces known in the solar system, and Earth has been the victim of many crashes of these extra-terrestrial bodies. The consequences of such collisions have been proven to be devastating, and nowhere more so than in the example of Chicxulub. The massive crater left here by an asteroid has interested scientists for years, and they finally cracked some of its secrets!
The Crater In Question
Why the location of Chicxulub attracted researchers in the first place is the presence of a massive crater left here by an asteroid. The crater is named after a village which now lies next to its center, but life wasn’t always in bloom here. Scientists discovered something of high importance that took place in the area!
The Chicxulub Asteroid
What scientists were trying to study here, was a cosmic event that had an asteroid the size of 8.5 miles across, hurling towards Earth, and finally hitting its target in Mexico. This collision caused solid granite to begin exploding and flooding the region as if it was water! And it created one strange shape!
The Important Find
Immediately after beginning to study the crater, researchers knew they had something special on their hands. The crater spans over 110 miles wide today, which makes this the third-largest impact crater in the whole world! But that is not what made it so special and important in the history of life on earth!
The Peak Ring
The so-called peak ring of the Chicxulub crater was created due to the asteroid’s size. When large asteroids strike the Earth, they form two impact rings instead of one. One outer upper crust and one inner peak ring of the deep crust. The Chicxulub crater was proof that the hit Earth took that day must have been massive and devastating. It even made its insides turn!
The Peak Ring Effect
What the impact of a huge asteroid does, is it shoves rock deep into the Earth’s crust. This rock then immediately rebounds up and collapses straight away, thereby forming a wide ring. It’s an extraordinary event and one that doesn’t occur on Earth all that often. But just how impactful was the event?
Forming the Ring
The peak ring of the Chicxulub crater lept a whopping six miles into the air before it collapsed back. It was truly a massive explosion of Earth’s materials, and everything came up to the surface, only to settle on it once again in the form of a ring. But just how massive was the crater left behind?
Just How Big?
The Chicxulub crater is giant, with an estimated original diameter of 150 miles. Only a few more craters on the whole planet are larger, but neither of them affected our Earth more than this one. The theory the scientists came up with is astounding, and it offers us clues about our own evolution. Some species went extinct because of the impact!
The Extinction Of Species
What makes Chicxulub so important is the fact that it almost single-handedly caused the extinction of dinosaurs! The impact of the crash was so great, that it wiped out over half of Earth’s species in total. Dinosaurs went effectively extinct after the event, but how did this happen in the first place?
Asteroids used to be pretty frequent occurrences on Earth millions of years ago, and they caused some serious damage! The asteroid which struck in Chicxulub was a whopping 7,5 mile-wide, and there was absolutely no escaping the fatality it brought with it. But there is more to the story!
The Area Of the Event
We must consider how different the Earth looked back when the Chicxulub asteroid struck it. The landscape which seems desert-like today was previously very different. The area where the asteroid struck was covered by water and was one of the many flooded spaces of our Earth. And then the impact came!
66 million years ago, the asteroid struck the region now called Chicxulub, leaving after it pure devastation. The crash is said to have caused wildfires, tsunami, and a sulfur leak into the atmosphere which was unprecedented. This means that the asteroid did not just kill the dinosaurs through impact, it did so by something more lasting and dangerous!
The Climate Change
The process of how the asteroid struck is a complicated one. First, it crashed into a shallow sea which was incidentally sulfur-rich. The gases which then vaporized from the impact formed a climate-altering blanket over a large area, and acid rain started to drop. Was it the end of all life on Earth?
The Excess Debris
The impact of the asteroid was so strong in fact that it not only punched a hole in the Earth atmosphere, it also blew up a large amount of material vertically. This created a vapor cloud that reached the atmosphere again, before raining back down. Some of this debris might have even been trapped in the atmosphere itself!
The Extent Of The Pollution
The debris fell down all over the Earth, but not just that! Everywhere on our planet, we can find pieces of the Chicxulub asteroid. These pieces and geological debris were all incorporated into the building layers of our planet. And this debris and rocks had a role to play in the forming of the peak ring too!
The Peak Ring Rocky Basis
The rocks which were thrown out into the air by the asteroid also helped form the peak ring! They came from a depth of many miles, and suddenly, they were hurling back down to settle on the surface. Granite was one of the most present materials in this debris. But there was something else which made the debris dangerous for Earth!
The Debris Danger
It wasn’t only granite and other rocks that were thrown into the air by the asteroid strike. The asteroid actually hit a very bad and dangerous place, as the area was filled with minerals that did not like to be aggravated. The chemical reaction which ensued was bad news for all life on the planet!
The Bad Spot
The place of impact was full of limestone, and evaporites mostly rich in sulfur. The chemical effects which begin when sulfur hits the atmosphere are extremely dangerous, and it does something which can cause all life on Earth to cease. The Chicxulub asteroid most certainly hit a bad spot!
The Atmospheric Effect
Once sulfur hits the upper atmosphere, it can form a shroud that stops sunlight from creeping in. As life on Earth is dependent on sunlight, this could prove to be a catastrophic event, if lasting too long. How long the sulfur would block the sun was directly related to how much sulfur was exposed after the impact. And it wasn’t little!
The Dust In The Air
It was not just the sulfur blocking the light. Dust from the debris played it part too, and combined, these events caused an almost total blackout on the planet. Life on Earth couldn't last for long if it had no access to sunlight, and species were slowly starting to disappear because of it. The trouble of the Chicxulub asteroid was becoming serious!
Survival Of The Fittest
Naturally, forests started to die, and wildfires spread through the planet, causing everything to turn into ashes. No large animal could survive these terrible conditions, which is why most of them went extinct. The earth went dark, poisonous, and totally unlivable, as a result of which only 25% of its species managed to survive the meteorite catastrophe. How did this happen?
The Mass Extinction
It wasn’t just the dinosaurs that went extinct because of the asteroid crash, even though their disappearance was the most significant one for our history. Many other animals such as lizards, snakes, and birds, had to suffer the same fate. Scientists are now trying to decipher the web of all species that we lost 66 million years ago. The answers lie deep beneath the surface!
The Sediment Revelations
Researchers are relying on the layers upon layers of sediments in the area to reach a better understanding of the event and the species that perished during and after it. They found tsunami deposits at a depth of 2,034 and 2,198 feet, and are still digging deeper. What they find each day is astounding!
The Many Interest Points
The Chicxulub crater is interesting to scientists and researchers for more reasons than one. Aside from the extinction element, the crater is also vital for our understanding of how craters are shaped and formed. Scientists have access to something they would usually never have on planet Earth!
The Chicxulub crater is special on our planet, as it offers scientists a look into a massive and devastating event that they can study thoroughly, as it is located on Earth. In most cases, peak rings, especially of the size of Chicxulub, appear only on the moon, Mercury, or Mars. Having a peak ring of this kind on Earth is a gift for the researchers!
Scientists now agree that it wasn’t just the impact of the asteroid that brought many species on this planet to extinction. Rather, it was a combination of all the events that the impact catalyzed. Everything on this planet is connected, and if something disturbs one part of it, the effects will be deeply felt all around the globe!
The Sensitive Nature
Our nature is extremely sensitive, so it is no surprise that an event such as the hit of a massive asteroid would bring about a huge change. The unfortunate combination of coincidences that took place when the asteroid struck managed to shift our whole ecosystem into a new state. The scientist started looking into some more clues about what really happened!
The project to drill at the crater has been in the works for a decade, and finally, researchers were able to begin in 2016. Trying to penetrate 4,379 feet into the seafloor was a true challenge, but only professionals were participating in the drill, so things looked promising from the start. But the crater was discovered long before 2016!
The First Discovery
The initial discovery of the crater was made in the ‘80s by a group of American archaeologists who spotted something strange on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. They saw a ring of around 180 miles in diameter and immediately knew this was something out of the ordinary. Only modern technology would bring this discovery closer to our understanding!
The Change Of Technique
Not only were the drilling efforts getting many more results with modern technology, but scientists now also started drilling in a completely different way than ever before at the crater! Looking for clues buried on land was just the first step to unraveling the mystery of Chicxulub!
This was the first time scientists went for offshore drilling to find out more about the peak ring! The technology used for this was unprecedented, and it was one of the reasons responsible for the success the scientists have had in deciphering history. Something by the name Liftboat Myrtle was the star of the show!
The Liftboat Myrtle
The Liftboat Myrtle was a 137- foot craft that used a tripod with 6-foot-wide legs in order to sit above water. The craft was placed a few miles from the town Progreso in Mexico, and scientists began excavations and studies on the crater there. It was a new generation of research!
The platform was supported by three pylons, each sitting directly on the seafloor. The whole technology around building Liftboat Myrtle was extremely complicated, and expert engineers were required to help the design and construction process. But the fruit of the labor was sweet!
A team of researchers from the University of Texas in Austin set out to examine everything there was to learn about the crater. They used modern technology, the latest X-ray techniques, and machine-learning analysis, all to measure the sediments and rocks in the crater. And their work came to fruition!
Blink Of An Eye
After all the work of various teams of researchers and scientists, we finally know a bit more about the catastrophic event. What is perhaps most perplexing is that this devastation crash, and the chain of events it started, only took place in the scope of about 10 minutes. But not everything was as bad as it seems!
Life Begins Again
The excavations showed us that despite the mass extinction of species, the asteroid impact provided fertile ground for the development of new life forms. Records prove that life was back in the area within 30,000 years, and even though that seems like a lot, it is barely minutes in the history of our planet.
The catastrophic effect of the Chicxulub asteroid crash might have wiped out entire species from our planet, but it was yet another natural cycle of life event. The climate change triggered, as well as the renewal of life that happened a few thousand years after, proves that the Earth is resourceful and resilient. We have this asteroid to thank for our own existence today!
Sources: Atlas Obscura, Science Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, National Geographic, BBC, The Yucatan Times, Live Science, Stanford, Business Insider, Discover Magazine, Nature, Ars Technica, Washington Post, Science Daily, PBS, EOS, American Geosciences, NY Post, University Chicago, Science Direct, LPI, JPL, Wired, The Sun, Crater Explorer, Answer Is Genesis, Physics Today, Sea Cormarine, NPR, Asteroid Day