What exactly happened when the asteroid that spelt the end of dinosaurs slammed into the Earth, 66 million years ago? Scientists are one step closer to understanding how dramatically the planet was transformed in just one day.
When the asteroid that spelt the end of dinosaurs slammed into the Earth 66 million years ago, the impact sparked wildfires, a huge tsunami, and plunged the Earth into such darkness it ultimately killed off most of life on its surface.
That’s the scenario scientists have long hypothesised — and they now have hard evidence to back it up.
By studying rock samples from the core of the crater, a team led by The University of Texas at Austin has managed to reconstruct almost hour-by-hour the immediate aftermath of the impact.
"We were able to describe how the crater formed, how the ocean rushed back into the crater and filled it up very rapidly, how the outgoing tsunami that left the crater bounced back off of the mountains of Mexico and came screaming back into the crater," the study's lead author and research professor at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG), Dr. Sean Gulick, told Euronews Now.
But one of the most important takeaways from the research published in the scientific journal PNAS, he said, was what was missing from the core samples — in this case, the sulfur-rich rocks that were known to surround the crater.
Their article titled 'The first day of the Cenozoic' supports the theory that the impact of the asteroid vaporised those rocks and released their gases into the atmosphere, wreaking havoc on the Earth’s climate by reflecting sunlight away from the planet and causing cooling on a global scale.
Even before hitting the Mexican coast, the asteroid generated so much energy that it caused fires thousands of kilometres away because of the friction it generated with the atmosphere. As a result, the smoke and sulfur released into the atmosphere "drowned" life on Earth.
To put it in perspective, that's about four times greater in magnitude than the sulfur that was released during the 1883 Krakatoa eruption in the Dutch East Indies — which cooled the Earth's climate by an average of 1.2°C for five years.
Although the impact of the asteroids created massive destruction at the regional level, it was this global climate change that caused a mass extinction, killing the dinosaurs along with most of the life on the planet at that time.
"The real killer has to be atmospheric," Gulick said in a statement detailing the study’s findings. "The only way to get a global mass extinction like this is an atmospheric effect."
From a dinosaur's perspective, that scenario meant either immediate death in the inferno or in the long period of global cooling that ensued.
"We fried them and then we froze them," Gulick said.
Researchers estimate the asteroid hit with the equivalent power of 10 billion atomic bombs of the size used in World War II.
You can watch Gulick's full interview on Euronews Now by clicking on the video player, above.