The asteroid that condemned dinosaurs 66 million years ago struck Earth at “the deadliest angle possible,” according to new simulations of the apocalyptic event.
Researchers at Imperial College London have revealed that the asteroid hit Earth at a 60-degree angle. Striking at this exact angle maximizes the amount of gases and particles that change the climate in the upper atmosphere.
The nuclear winter that followed killed dinosaurs and wiped out 75% of all life on Earth.
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“For dinosaurs, the worst case scenario is exactly what happened,” said Professor Gareth Collins of the Imperial’s department of earth sciences and engineering, who led the study.
“The asteroid strike released an incredible amount of climate-altering gas into the atmosphere, triggering a chain of events that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. This was probably made worse by the fact that he struck from one of the deadliest angles possible. “
The researchers used a combination of digital impact simulations and geophysical data from the impact site to reproduce the event in 3D for the first time.
“Our simulations provide convincing evidence that the asteroid hit at a steep angle, perhaps 60 degrees above the horizon, and approached its target from the northeast,” said the professor. Collins.
“We know it was one of the worst case fatality scenarios, because it put more dangerous debris in the upper atmosphere and scattered it everywhere – the very thing that led to a nuclear winter.”
The simulation was created by feeding geophysical data from the Chicxulub crater, 200 km wide in Mexico, which determined the angle and direction of the asteroid.
Previous simulations only provided information about the early stages of the impact, not the consequences.
Co-author Dr Auriol Rae of the University of Friborg said: “Although it is buried under almost a kilometer of sedimentary rock, it is remarkable that geophysical data reveals so much about the structure of the crater – enough to describe the direction and angle of the impact. “
The results of the study are published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.