New Research Reveals What Happened on Earth the First Day the Dinosaurs Died

Rocks from the asteroid impact crater shed light on what happened to dinosaurs on the first day of their demise.
Donna Fuscaldo
Asteroid making impact RomoloTavani/iStock

For years scientists have blamed an asteroid for wiping out the dinosaurs, setting off wildfires and tsunamis and sending so much sulfur into the atmosphere that sunlight was obstructed upon impact. 

Now scientists have real evidence to back up that assessment thanks to researchers at The University of Texas. They found hard evidence in hundreds of feet of rocks that filled the impact site within the first day after the massive asteroid struck.


Researchers provide the most detailed look into the aftermath

The evidence is comprised of charcoal bits and rocks that were free of sulfur. They are part of a rock record that Sean Gulick, a research professor at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG) at the Jackson School of Geosciences, who led the study, called the most detailed look into the aftermath of the asteroid that put an end to the Age of Dinosaurs.

“It’s an expanded record of events that we were able to recover from within ground zero,” said Gulick in a press release announcing the study, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “It tells us about impact processes from an eyewitness location.”

The study was built on earlier research on how the crater was formed and how long it took for life to recover from the devastation. More than two dozen scientists located around the world contributed to the study. 

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Rocks that filled up crater were free of sulfur 

The researchers found that most of the materials that filled up the crater after the asteroid hit were produced at the impact site or was pushed in by seawater that poured back into the crater from the Gulf of Mexico. Because so much material was deposited in the crater at a rapid rate, researchers were provided with clues about the lasting effects of the impact. It was described by Gulick as an inferno that didn't last long followed by a longer period of cooling around the globe. “We fried them and then we froze them,” Gulick said. “Not all the dinosaurs died that day, but many dinosaurs did."

So what was life like for dinosaurs when the asteroid made impact?

Researchers said the impact was equal to the power of 10 billion atomic bombs the size of the one used in World War II. Upon impact, fires broke out, with trees and plants thousands of miles away igniting. Meanwhile, a huge tsunami that reached as far as Illinois flooded the planet. What's more, researchers said they found evidence that the burned landscape was also pulled into the crater when the tsunami receded. 

Real dinosaur killer atmospheric 

One of the biggest takeaways, according to researchers, is the fact that none of the rocks in the impact crater had any sulfur although rocks surrounding it did. That backs the theory that the asteroid vaporized the sulfur minerals at the impact site sending it into the atmosphere which reflected sunlight away and ushered in the cooling period. 

“The real killer has got to be atmospheric,” Gulick said. “The only way you get a global mass extinction like this is an atmospheric effect.”

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