Scientists find answer to 66-million-year-old dinosaur extinction mystery Science and technology news
Scientists have found that the meteorite that wiped out Earth’s dinosaurs instantly ignited wildfires thousands of kilometers from its impact zone.
The six-mile-wide meteorite impacted the Yucatan Peninsula of modern-day Mexico at the end of the Cretaceous Period, 66 million years ago.
Its devastating effects abruptly ended the reign of dinosaurs, triggering their sudden mass extinction, scientists say, along with the end of nearly three-quarters of the plant and animal species that lived on Earth at the time.
The circumstances behind the devastating wildfires known to be caused by the strike have been debated, with multiple theories as to how and when they started and the magnitude of their impact.
By analyzing rock from the time of the impact, a team of geoscientists from the UK, Mexico and Brazil have found that some of the fires started minutes after the impact, at most.
The fires affected areas stretching as far as 1,553 miles or more from where the Earth was struck, the experts found.
In a newly published study, they said wildfires that broke out in coastal areas were short-lived because backwash from the mega-tsunami caused by the impact swept charred trees offshore.
By examining the fossilized tree bark, the geoscientists discovered that the fires had already started when the trees were washed away shortly after the initial impact.
They concluded that this was due to either an epic-sized fireball or the heat from droplets of molten rock falling back through the atmosphere immediately after impact.
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Professor Ben Kneller of the University of Aberdeen, a co-author of the study, said: “Until now it was not clear whether the fires were caused as a direct result of the impact or later, as vegetation was killed by the darkness caused by the darkness entering the Atmosphere debris was ignited by things like lightning strikes.
“Ultimately, our research confirms how and when these devastating fires started, and paints a vivid and quite chilling picture of what happened immediately after the meteorite impact.”
The study was supported by Shell Brazil as part of the Brazilian government’s Science without Borders program and was published in the journal Scientific Reports.