A group of scientists are getting closer to fully understanding the cataclysmic event that killed off the dinosaurs, not by looking at the Earth, but the moon.
For decades, there have been competing theories about what finished off the species that dominated Earth for close to 200 million years. But a general consensus has emerged in recent years that a giant impact that struck just off the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico 66 million years ago at the very least played a significant role. Now scientists, in a study published in “Nature Communications” last week, said they have a better grasp on the impact after having studied a similar crater on the surface of the moon.
The Chicxulub crater in Mexico, created by a strike from either an asteroid or a comet, measures around 120 miles in diameter, but cannot be effectively studied because it was buried under a kilometer of sediments. There is no such problem, though, with the moon’s Schrödinger basin.
Researchers, led by David Kring of the Lunar and Planetary Institute, used geologic mapping and found that the impact on the moon 3.8 billion years ago created a hole of up to 20 miles deep and uplifted rock more than 12 miles above the surface, more than twice the height of Mount Everest. These uplifts collapsed all within an hour of impact, creating a 200-mile-wide basin and 1.5 mile-high jagged mountain peaks.
Research suggests that the Chicxulub crater, which coincides with the end of the end of the Cretaceous period, would have been created similarly, although at an even more rapid pace because of the greater gravity on Earth.
“This is an excellent example of how studies of the Moon can help us better understand our own planet Earth,” Kring said in a release from the Lunar and Planetary Institute. “The features seen in the Schrödinger basin also paint an amazing picture of Earth’s Chicxulub crater. Observations of the lunar basin suggest the rock in the Chicxulub basin’s peak ring flowed, in part, because it was dissected into a large number of rocky blocks with reduced cohesion and possibly offset by kilometer-scale fault motions.”
While the impact wouldn’t have killed the dinosaurs off immediately, the sudden rising and collapsing of molten rock, a process that would normally take millions of years, would have had a devastating effect.
Kring said further study of the Schrödinger basin, using robotic rovers, could yield even greater understanding of exactly how the dinosaurs’ reign on Earth came to an end.