The day the dinosaurs died

Tsunami: The impact churned across the Gulf of Mexico, tearing up coastlines. © Robert DePalma

A young scientist has found a record of the most significant event in the history of life on Earth. Stunning fossils show what happened when a huge asteroid slammed into the Gulf of Mexico.

It was a day about 66 million years ago. Dinosaurs still roamed the Earth.

That is, until a six-mile-wide asteroid travelling at 45,000 mph slammed into the Earth.

The impact released more energy than a billion Hiroshima bombs. Around 25 trillion metric tons of debris covered the Earth. Tsunamis tore apart the coasts. Powerful earthquakes were triggered.

In that moment, the Cretaceous period ended and the Paleocene (that we are still living through) began.

Now, a PhD student named Robert DePalma claims to have found fossils from that day at a site in North Dakota, USA.

“This is the first time we see direct victims” of the asteroid impact, palaeontologist Jan Smit told The New Yorker magazine.

The site is covered in millions of tektites. These are tiny balls of glass formed by the molten rock of an asteroid impact. They are 65.76 million years old, and they match the crater that the asteroid left behind in Mexico.

DePalma claims to have found multiple fossils of dinosaurs that died on the day the asteroid hit. These include an egg with an embryo inside it. If true, it might disprove the idea that the dinosaurs were already dying out.

However, some scientists are still sceptical. “I am left with more questions than answers,” palaeontologist Steve Brusatte told The New York Times.

Dino-mite

There is still fierce debate among scientists about what killed the dinosaurs. The asteroid? Or were they already doomed by climate crisis? It is not just a scientific question. If it was the asteroid, it left a deadly warning for humans: the end could be sudden and unpredictable.

But if climate crisis was killing dinosaurs anyway, we are left with a different message. They could not have known their fate. But humans have science and technology. We have time to help ourselves before it is too late.

You Decide

  1. What is the bigger threat: asteroids or climate crisis?

Activities

  1. Imagine you have an interview with Robert DePalma. What three questions would you ask him about his discovery?

Some People Say...

“The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn’t have a space programme.”

Larry Niven, US science fiction writer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
There is evidence that DePalma’s fossil site is filled with remains from the day that the asteroid hit Earth. This comes from the tektites. There is also evidence that it was swamped with water.
What do we not know?
How seriously to take all of DePalma’s claims. A scientific study published only had details of the site’s geology, not about the dinosaur fossils he found.

Word Watch

Hiroshima bombs
Hiroshima is a city in Japan. In August 1945, the US dropped an atomic bomb on the city, killing 80,000 people and wounding tens of thousands more.
Cretaceous period
A 79-million-year period, during which the continents formed and were divided by oceans. This cooled the planet’s temperature. Famous dinosaur species, such as the Tyrannosaurus rex, lived in this time.
PhD
The highest university degree.
Tektites
These tiny stones are formed by the molten rock of an asteroid impact. The ones found at the site matched the chemistry of the “dinosaur-killer” asteroid crater.

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