From our standpoint 66 million years later, it’s easy to assume the demise of the dinosaurs was an inevitability.
But an international team of researchers is making a radical argument for why that may not be the case: Had the asteroid that likely wiped out the dinosaurs slammed into the planet a few minutes earlier or later, the scientists say, the fabled reptiles could still be walking the earth now.
That conclusion makes up one of the most intriguing revelations in The Day the Dinosaurs Died, a BBC Two documentary that was filmed across three continents during the past year before airing this week.
How is it possible dinosaurs could still be alive?
If the massive asteroid that smashed into present-day Yucatan hit the Atlantic Ocean or somewhere else, the scientists maintain, the rock would have avoided an area made up primarily of limestone and evaporated ocean sediments and rich in carbon dioxide, sulphur and deadly gypsum. Due to the earth’s rotation, even a minute or two could have significantly changed the outcome of the impact.
It was, for all intents and purposes, a kill shot for the giant reptiles roaming the planet.
“When the asteroid hits with the force of something like 10 billion Hiroshima explosions, all of that gets pumped up in the atmosphere, and it may have been really critical for the mass extinction that followed as it blocked out the sun,” Sean Gulick, a University of Texas professor who studies catastrophism in the geologic record, told The Washington Post. “A few minutes earlier or later and the asteroid would’ve hit the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean and not slammed into a big, volatile platform that was then vaporised as it spread upward and out.”
Known as the Chicxulub crater, the impact zone lies 24 miles off the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. The impact left in its wake a hole in the earth 20 miles deep and 120 miles across, scientists say, a site that is now covered completely by 66 million years worth of solid rock and sediment.
To reach their shocking conclusion, the scientists drilled through that rock and into the site of impact crater more than 1,300 metres below the seafloor. Gulick, who appears in the BBC Two programme, said drilling into the crater is something he’s been pushing for, with grant proposals and lobbying, for more than 15 years.
“The idea was a little outside of the box,” he said. “When scientists are seeking funding, most of the time people are going after some question about past climates or earthquakes or some very fundamental ocean earth science topic, but we were saying we wanted to drill into an impact crater, which has a different ring to it.”
“It just so happens that this particular crater had an extremely important role in the history of our planet,” he added.
Though many scientists say the impact of an asteroid caused many dinosaurs to vanish, the idea remains a widely accepted theory. Using seismic images that showed researchers where they…