TeaThat first cave art. The dawn of agriculture Although these are among the most important moments at the beginning of mankind, our most dramatic origin story begins 66 million years ago. It was the apocalyptic moment when a rock from outer space struck Earth, ending the age of the dinosaurs and eventually offering our mammalian ancestors a bountiful new world.
For 40 years, scientists have studied the story of this destructive object, now known as the Chicxulub impactor. Today, the influencer represents more than just a bad day on Earth; Instead, it has become a kind of Rosetta Stone that could explain deep puzzles about the origins of life on our planet and other worlds in the Milky Way and the future of human civilization.
“The Chicxulub impact event completely modified the geologic and biological evolution of planet Earth,” says David Kring, a planetary geologist who leads the Center for Lunar Science and Exploration in Houston. Crater beneath Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in 1991. “It’s such a huge scientific story with popular appeal because it extinguished the dinosaurs and cleared the slate, if you will, for the mammalian evolution that gave rise to humans, it’s fascinated both the scientific community and the scientific community.” public for years to come.”
For decades, scientists argued about the causes of dinosaur death. Volcanic eruptions and other exotic hypotheses were proposed, but the scientific consensus settled on a rock from space being the killer. The Chicxulub theory now reigns so supreme that scientists have pieced together a detailed timeline of what happened on that fateful day, and other researchers are writing what might be called a prequel, the extraterrestrial origins of that event. To which we partly attribute our existence.
As more advanced tools and techniques become available, scientists are able to extract new and accurate insights about this epic wipeout on our planet, and what it could mean for the beginning of life.
The latest discovery comes from a study published in July in the journal Icarus that sought to find the original home of the Chicxulub effector. It did so by taking advantage of the immense processing power of NASA’s supercomputers to model the motion of about 130,000 asteroids in the main belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
“Ultimately, we want to solve the big questions, and this kind of work allows us to get after some of them,” said co-author Bill Botke of the study and director of the Department of Space Studies at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder. it is said. , Colorado.
The Icarus study is part of a constant stream of ideas about the effect that may have dazzled in his creativity, often to the point of controversy. For example, this year, a team from Harvard University revived the possibility that the impactor was a comet, prompting many scientists in the field.
Another scientist, Harvard University’s Lisa Randall, also zoomed out to offer a galactic view of the Chicxulub event. in his 2015 book Dark Matter and DinosaursRandall proposes that the Milky Way contains a layer of dark matter, a mysterious hypothetical substance, that could help push comets from the outer solar system toward Earth.
Although this explanation has not received significant following, it shows how Chicxulub draws on prismatic perspectives from the worlds of cosmology, computational science, astrophysics and other fields.
Botke says that access to NASA’s Pleiades supercomputer was a “game-changer” for his team, enabling researchers to run simulations of a massive asteroid population over the course of hundreds of millions of years.
This Big Data technology helped match strong geological evidence that the impactor was a carbonaceous asteroid – and not a comet – with a possible origin in the outer asteroid belt. This distant region between Mars and Jupiter contains several mile-wide carbonaceous asteroids similar to the Chicxulub impactor. But these rocks are not gravitationally flung into collision courses with planets as often as asteroids in the belt’s inner region, where there are fewer objects that match Chicxulub’s composition.
“We couldn’t find a clear solution as to where one of the biggest impacts on Earth in recent times came from,” says Botke. “Essentially, the possibilities we tried just weren’t exhausting. It was really frustrating and it looked like we were missing something.”
The team’s supercomputer approach revealed that asteroids like Chicxulub escape from the outer belt about 10 times more often than previous models. This raises the possibility that the rock that killed the dinosaurs may have originated there.
“It’s a confirmation of a really good idea, and I think it helps me understand more about how the asteroid belt might affect Earth over billions of years,” Botke says.
Sean Gulick, a planetary geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin who was one of the leaders of the 2016 scientific drilling expedition that obtained precious rock cores from Chicxulub crater, says the paper is “forensic, if you will, about whether impactor Where did it come from. It’s interesting because it was an important event for the evolution of our planet and itself.”
Gulick also noted that the study highlights the dangers that asteroids pose over time, including the risks to our planet-bound civilization. The Chicxulub effect and the fate of the dinosaurs are often invoked as the ultimate argument for investing in planetary defense research and expanding our species beyond Earth. (Though it’s worth noting that other worlds, including Mars, are largely not free from asteroid impacts.)
But Chicxulub also sheds light on some of the most evocative questions about the origin of life. Kring has long fascinated the subject, and it has helped to produce a wealth of research about microbial ecosystems that arose as a result of the apocalyptic event.
“There is an argument that stipulates that this type of bombardment is not only involved in the disturbance of the evolution of life, but in fact in the origin of life on our planet,” he says. “Understanding these processes is important, and our best measures about some of these outcomes on Earth are going to come from these youngest impactors, such as Chicxulub, as the evidence is stronger.”
Mission Gulick helped lead and continues to elucidate the role of influence as both the destroyer of life and the crucible. As researchers scoured the depths of the buried doomsday event, they found dusty traces of sandy backwash impacted by the tsunami it created, and the fossilized remains of the fauna that followed it.
Perhaps most surprising, a study published this summer describes the modern-day microbial descendants of those early crater adopters, who are still living in the shadow of the devastation that was colonized by their ancestors.
Gulick says, “It’s amazing to me that you can make an impact and you can generate an ecosystem, then 66 million years later, you still have life in that place that existed because of this past condition.” Is.” “On a larger scale, maybe you can generate habitats with impacts really early in Earth’s history and have ecosystems survive later. It shows one of the ways you can advance life. “
In this sense, the Chicxulub effector actually holds the galactic effect in the form of a capsule at the time of both the biological disaster and the birth of new life. Other life-bearing worlds in the Milky Way may have been similarly shaped by asteroid impacts, with tales of destruction and recovery.
“This is an issue that potentially goes far beyond the extinction of the dinosaurs,” Kring says.
This article originally appeared in the new York Times.
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /