For about forty years now, scientists have been studying this record of the catastrophic end to the dinosaurs, known now as the Chicxulub impactor. Now, the impactor represents more than one horrible day on Earth. Instead, it has become a kind of Rosetta Stone that can solve deeper questions about the origins of life and the future of human civilization, both on Earth and on other planets across the galaxy.
Scientists have been arguing over what actually killed the dinosaurs, but the Chicxulub impactor provides such clear evidence that scientists have pieced together the detailed timelines of what transpired on that day, and other researchers are writing what could be called the prequel, seeking the extraterrestrial origins of the event to which we partially owe our existence.
“The Chicxulub impact event completely modified the geologic and biologic evolution of planet Earth,” said David Kring, a planetary geologist who takes part in the Center for Lunar Science and Exploration in Houston, also being a part of the team that announced the discovery of the Chicxulub impact crater beneath Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. “That is such a big scientific story with a popular appeal because it extinguished dinosaurs and cleared the slate, if you will, for mammalian evolution that led to humans, it’s going to captivate both the scientific community and the public for years to come.”
One of the questions that scientists had was where this asteroid came from. The team’s supercomputer showed that Chicxulub-like asteroids escape from the outer belt about ten times more often than implied by previous models. That boosts the odds that the dinosaur-killing rock may have originated there.
The crater also created life on Earth. A study published this summer described modern-day microbial descendants of those early crater adopters, still living in the shadow of the catastrophe that was colonized by their forebears. the Chicxulub impactor truly does have galactic implications as a time capsule of both biological disaster and the birth of new life. Other life-bearing worlds across the Milky Way might be similarly shaped by asteroid impacts, with tales of destruction and recovery all their own.