Sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid slammed into the Earth's atmosphere, traveling 45,000 miles per hour. The asteroid ripped a hole 18 miles deep in the Earth's crust, triggering devastating winds, seismic waves, and tsunamis. For decades, scientists have hypothesized that the asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs. The debris thrown into the atmosphere blocked out the sun, wiping out plants, and then herbivores, and then carnivores. And now, recently uncovered evidence provides a snapshot of exactly what happened on the day of the impact.
Immediately after the asteroid struck, fiery spherules rained down, a 30-foot wave tossed fish on shore, and winds up to 600 miles per hour tore through the air, shredding plant life. New evidence captures the devastation in more detail than ever before - and the evidence might even debunk dinosaur conspiracy theories or inspire new hit dinosaur movies.
Fierce Shaking Heralded The Incoming Asteroid
A dinosaur looking up 66 million years ago might have spotted the asteroid as it approached Earth. The huge object, flying toward the planet at 45,000 miles per hour, remained visible for about 60 hours before impact.
Even before the asteroid struck, living creatures felt its impact. As the asteroid smashed into the atmosphere, it created a shock wave that shook the Earth.
Energy From The Falling Debris Ignited Wildfires Across The Americas
The vaporized asteroid created a plume of fire that shot halfway to the moon. Enormous forest fires erupted in a 1,500-mile radius around the impact site due to both the initial impact and the subsequent tektites. As the glass droplets fell from the sky, they reached an entry speed similar to the space shuttle, growing so hot they set fire to plants as they landed. Geologic evidence shows the fires burned about 70% of the Earth's forests.
In addition to the cataclysmic blaze, geoscientist Clay Tabor and his colleagues at the University of Connecticut studied soot, sulfates, and dust to identify how the Earth was impacted by these particles. According to their results, published in the journal,Geophysical Research Letters, soot disproportionately blocked heat and light from the sun, causing "global cooling... disrupt[ing] the hydrologic cycle," and "prevent[ing] the growth of primary producers," which effectively starved marine life and interrupted the hydrologic cycle.
The Asteroid Struck Earth, Creating An Enormous Crater
The enormous asteroid struck the Western Hemisphere where the modern-day Yucatan peninsula is located and created a crater 18 miles deep. The massive impact released more energy than one billion Hiroshima detonations.
Due to the strike, Earth's crust momentarily bounced back and peaked higher than Mt. Everest before it broke apart. The impact threw 25 trillion metric tons of rock, ash, and debris into Earth's atmosphere. This dangerous material, hotter than the sun's surface, sparked fires for thousands of miles.
Glass Beads Known As Tektites Began To Rain Down
The asteroid's impact created an enormous hole in the Earth's crust. Almost immediately, bits of molten earth flew into the atmosphere where they cooled into glass particles called tektites. Within 15 minutes of the impact, tektites rained down on Earth and continued to do so for nearly an hour.
Recent evidence has shown these tektites traveled great distances; they took lives as far away as modern-day North Dakota. A fossil site there shows evidence of a mass extinction due to the asteroid impact and the subsequent events. The glass beads are believed to have burned vegetation when they landed due to their immense heat, and they fell in such high density that they clogged fishes' gills.