It turns out that the asteroid that is believed to have wiped out dinosaurs as well as 75 per cent of all life on Earth, also punctured the Earth’s crust and left a massive gaping hole.
Researchers from multiple universities and institutions took part in an international study of the Chicxulub impact crater said to have been left behind by the dino-killing asteroid. The team found that while the asteroid wiped out a whole chunk of life from Earth, it could have even laid the foundation for new life. This, scientists say, is possible because the force with which the asteroid smashed into Earth was so high that the impact brought about changes in the rocks making them less dense and more porous. This increased porosity meant that nutrients and water that were packed inside the lower layer’s of the Earth’s crust were now able to move up paving way for new life on the planet.
Published in journal Science, the new study looks at the “peak ring” – the inner rocky ridges of the impact crater. Researchers point out that with early Earth being constantly bombarded with asteroids of all sizes, there is a possibility that this bombardment must have also created other rocks with similar physical properties. This may partly explain how life took hold on Earth.
According to analysis the asteroid impact that created the Chicxulub crater hit the Earth’s surface with such force that it pushed rocks – at the time about 6 miles beneath the surface – akin to punching a massive hole in the ground. These rocks then moved inward toward the impact zone and then up to the surface before collapsing downward and outward again to form the peak ring. All told, the rocks moved about 18.6 miles in a few minutes.
Researchers say that it is surprising that they have found clues that point at the asteroid’s capability of both wiping out life and laying groundwork for future life at the same time.
“It’s incredible that a biosphere may be produced in that environment as well”, said Sonia Tikoo, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers’ University.
The study also confirmed a model of how peak rings formed in the Chicxulub crater, and how peak rings may be formed in craters on other planetary bodies.
Researchers will now be making much more detailed observations of all the samples collected during the drilling exercise. The eventual goal of the study is to look for evidence of modern and ancient life in the peak-ring rocks. They also want to learn more about the first sediments that were deposited on top of the peak ring. That could tell the researchers if a giant tsunami deposited the sediments, and provide insights into how life recovered and when life returned to this sterilized zone after the impact.