Did an asteroid really kill the dinosaurs?

The truth behind the demise of the dinosaurs may never be fully resolved, but a growing body of evidence has convinced many scientists that at least one of the culprits was a seven-mile-wide asteroid that hit Earth 65 million years ago near what is now the Yucatan peninsula. Exploding on impact, the monster rock produced a crater more than 180 miles wide, continent-drowning tsunamis, and winds far more powerful than any hurricane. In addition, dust kicked up by the explosion would have completely darkened daytime skies for months, devastating plant and animal life across the globe.

The prime piece of evidence supporting the theory is a thin layer of 65 million-year-old iridium-rich clay found in dozens of locations across the globe. (Iridium is extremely rare on Earth, but common in meteorites.) Furthermore, other rock samples from that era indicate an exposure to extreme heat and pressure, as would occur in an asteroid impact — and there is that enormous 65 million-year-old crater in Mexico…

Still, the argument is far from over. Many paleontologists point out that the dinosaurs — and many other life forms — were already dying out before the massive extinctions at 65 million years ago. Global temperatures and sea level had been dropping for millions of years. The larger animal life of the time must have been feeling the effects. The rock layers from that era also show evidence of extensive volcanic activity, which could account for a deadly worldwide dust cloud as well as the elevated iridium levels.

So we may never know what really killed the dinosaurs, but research into the possibility that an asteroid caused such a major “extinction event” has at least opened our eyes to the real threat of such an impact — and that puts us one up on the dinosaurs.


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