Nature Communications revealed last Tuesday that the asteroid, which was roughly twice the diameter of Paris, that crashed into Earth 66 million years ago actually hit us at the “deadliest possible” angle—60 degrees, based on recent discoveries.
For so long it was considered a mystery if the hit was direct or more of a glancing blow which caused all land-dwelling dinosaurs and 75 percent of life on the planet wiped out at that time.
Scientists and experts ran a series of simulations to analyze the phenomenon that struck a 200-kilometer-wide crater in southern Mexico.
Together with his colleagues at the University of Freiburg and the University of Texas at Austin, lead author Gareth Collins of Imperial College London looked at four possible impact angles—90, 60, 45 and 30 degrees—and two impact speeds, 12 and 20 kilometres per second.
60 degree strike asteroid
They found the closest fit with the data from the crater at a 60 degree strike.
“Sixty degrees is a more lethal impact angle because it ejects a larger amount of material fast enough to engulf the planet,” Collins told AFP.
“The Chicxulub impact triggered a mass extinction because it ejected huge quantities of dust and gas out of the crater fast enough to disperse around the globe.”
This event was also thought to have triggered an earthquake whose seismic waves reached Tanis—the fossil site 3,000 km away in North Dakota where definitive evidence of the asteroid’s devastating impact was uncovered—in just 13 minutes.
To this date, scientists have only been able to study the early stages of this catastrophe. They are still in pursuit of explanations as to how the asteroid triggered a mass extinction event and why some species survived while others didn’t.
“It makes it even more remarkable that life survived and recovered as rapidly as it did.”