The Day the Dinosaurs Died

from The New Yorker

If, on a certain evening about sixty-­six million years ago, you had stood somewhere in North America and looked up at the sky, you would have soon made out what appeared to be a star. If you watched for an hour or two, the star would have seemed to grow in brightness, although it barely moved. That’s because it was not a star but an asteroid, and it was headed directly for Earth at about forty-five thousand miles an hour. Sixty hours later, the asteroid hit. The air in front was compressed and violently heated, and it blasted a hole through the atmosphere, generating a supersonic shock wave. The asteroid struck a shallow sea where the Yucatán peninsula is today. In that moment, the Cretaceous period ended and the Paleogene period began.

A few years ago, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory used what was then one of the world’s most powerful computers, the so-called Q Machine, to model the effects of the impact. The result was a slow-motion, second-by-second false-color video of the event. Within two minutes of slamming into Earth, the asteroid, which was at least six miles wide, had gouged a crater about eighteen miles deep and lofted twenty-five trillion metric tons of debris into the atmosphere. Picture the splash of a pebble falling into pond water, but on a planetary scale. When Earth’s crust rebounded, a peak higher than Mt. Everest briefly rose up. The energy released was more than that of a billion Hiroshima bombs, but the blast looked nothing like a nuclear explosion, with its signature mushroom cloud. Instead, the initial blowout formed a “rooster tail,” a gigantic jet of molten material, which exited the atmosphere, some of it fanning out over North America. Much of the material was several times hotter than the surface of the sun, and it set fire to everything within a thousand miles. In addition, an inverted cone of liquefied, superheated rock rose, spread outward as countless red-hot blobs of glass, called tektites, and blanketed the Western Hemisphere.

Some of the ejecta escaped Earth’s gravitational pull and went into irregular orbits around the sun. Over millions of years, bits of it found their way to other planets and moons in the solar system. Mars was eventually strewn with the debris—just as pieces of Mars, knocked aloft by ancient asteroid impacts, have been found on Earth. A 2013 study in the journal Astrobiology estimated that tens of thousands of pounds of impact rubble may have landed on Titan, a moon of Saturn, and on Europa and Callisto, which orbit Jupiter—three satellites that scientists believe may have promising habitats for life. Mathematical models indicate that at least some of this vagabond debris still harbored living microbes. The asteroid may have sown life throughout the solar system, even as it ravaged life on Earth.

The asteroid was vaporized on impact. Its substance, mingling with vaporized Earth rock, formed a fiery plume, which reached halfway to the moon before collapsing in a pillar of incandescent dust. Computer models suggest that the atmosphere within fifteen hundred miles of ground zero became red hot from the debris storm, triggering gigantic forest fires. As the Earth rotated, the airborne material converged at the opposite side of the planet, where it fell and set fire to the entire Indian subcontinent. Measurements of the layer of ash and soot that eventually coated the Earth indicate that fires consumed about seventy per cent of the world’s forests. Meanwhile, giant tsunamis resulting from the impact churned across the Gulf of Mexico, tearing up coastlines, sometimes peeling up hundreds of feet of rock, pushing debris inland and then sucking it back out into deep water, leaving jumbled deposits that oilmen sometimes encounter in the course of deep-sea drilling.

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10 Responses to The Day the Dinosaurs Died

  1. Josh Shupper April 9, 2019 at 7:19 pm #

    When an asteroid hit Earth a very long time ago, all living things (about 99.999% according to the article) were killed due to the impact. There was no oxygen in the atmosphere. As the asteroid hit, lots of debris flew up into the air. This created the air to be polluted. It led to an increase in methane, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide. The article mentions these as some of the most powerful and dangerous greenhouse gases in the world today. I thought this article was interesting in regard to the amount of fossils, dinosaur body parts, and other things from the extinction is still being found today. I remember last year as a senior in high school taking an Earth and Space Science course. One of the things that we had talked about the dinosaurs and the different ages of Earth. If there was one thing in common about the transition of the periods, an asteroid or some kind of big natural disaster would kill everything and the planet would go extinct as there would be no living creatures and the atmosphere would be in complete ruins, not to mention everything on the ground too was in ruins. Lots of parts from the asteroid were spewed all over the planet. Think about it, how could a dinosaur die in one country but one of the body parts of that dinosaur is found in another country. One of the theories that was mentioned in my science class was the theory of continental drift. The Earth was a large landmass at first and then began to shift around and break because of the increase in temperatures, sea levels rising in the oceans, and it is similar to climate change. It was definitely something that had intrigued me last year. The fact that there are dinosaur fossils still out there scattered all over the planet is something that I find mind-boggling. As the article mentioned, scientists and paleontologists could be busy for the next fifty years with everything that is still out there that has yet to be discovered. I think that they might need more than fifty years to discover everything. Who knows if we will be able to discover every dinosaur part all over the world. It is no small task, but I find it interesting to see what scientists and paleontologists can do in the future regarding the discovery of dinosaur fossils.

  2. Keegan Sullivan April 10, 2019 at 11:09 pm #

    Thinking about dinosaurs in earth is one of those topics that seems like a good idea but just isn’t. In fact, there are five Jurassic Park movies that distinctly show why dinosaurs roaming the earth could be problematic. So is the asteroid described in the article “The Day the Dinosaur Died” a hero? Maybe in one sense because it destroyed what could have been a dangerous predator when it wiped out the dinosaurs. But the aftermath is something I was not familiar with. Some of the events described in this article is unworldly. After the six mile asteroid made a huge divot in our planet, there were “twenty-five trillion” (!!!!) of debris into the sky. That number is so astronomical I can’t even begin to imagine it. And when I used to imagine impact clouds from asteroid strikes I pictured something similar to the atomic bomb. But as stated, that is not true at all. Rather than smoke rising into the sky, debris and heat is shot into space unleashing such a fire like blast that the land surrounding the impact is burned to nothing. While this cloud of debris, fire, and smoke gathers above the new dent the glove is continuing to spin thus moving this cloud above a new area scattered all across the world. While this cloud covers the earth, there is no opportunity for sunlight to get through and things such as photosynthesis cannot happen. Once again I cannot begin to fathom what kind of insanity has to occur in order for photosynthesis to not happen. And when sunlight doesn’t get through, the earth falls into a deep frozen state again. The KT boundary is something I found very interesting. This event was so impactful it literally left an entire layer of its evidence behind on earth. To me, I do not see many other realistic ways in which the entire population of dinosaurs could have been erased. Between the fossils found near the KT level and the mass of bones in certain areas, the asteroid seems to be the most logical explanation. I do not believe we will ever actually know the truth regardless of what technology we use. All we can do is debate to no end and be thankful whatever wiped out the dinosaurs did it before we arrived.

  3. Edward Holzel April 12, 2019 at 1:08 pm #

    The ending of the Dinosaur period has always fascinated me. The fact that a 6-mile large meteor was able to cause so much damage to the earth is rather unsettling. 6 miles in space is almost nothing and it only took a 6-mile large meteor to destroy the earth and kill 99.999% of all life. There is a pattern to the doomsday events that ended the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods. About 55-80 million years passed during each event. Looking at the idea that the dinosaurs went extinct over 60 million years ago means we need to be concerned about an extinction level event. There is a theory that has a planet that comes into the asteroid belt roughly every 60-70 years and sends asteroids/meteors into Earth. The fear of extinction by meteors needs to be addressed in our advanced society.

    NASA has been working to identify meteors in the solar system, but it is hard to locate and project the paths of every individual meteor. Hopefully, NASA will be able to see a meteor, capable of an extinction level event, and still have time to address the issue. There are several concepts that have been proposed. There is the basic idea of nuking the meteor to either destroy it or change its path. There is another idea to tug the asteroid with rockets or using solar wind. The last known idea is to melt the ice on the meteor and cause the weight to drop and the trajectory to change. These efforts are being slowed by a lack of funding to NASA. NASA only receives 21.5 billion dollars a year. That is only .49% of the US budget. The potential for NASA to create systems to protect us from dangerous meteors is hampered because of the lack of funding. Overall, the article about the extinction of the dinosaurs should bring a concern that an extinction level event could happen at any moment and we need to devote resources to prevent that from happening.

  4. Kyle Stephens April 12, 2019 at 2:47 pm #

    Dinosaurs have always fascinated me. I think my favorite part is the fact that they are still such a mystery to us. It seems like everyday there is some news about a new dinosaur or a correction in how they see dinosaurs etc. I also love that we have no idea what they said like yet someone made a noise up and we still use it to this day. The extinction of the dinosaurs is an event I am happy to say I missed. Just imagining the panic that our society would have as the asteroid came toward us and we the mighty humans wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it. We would meet the same firey feat as the dinosaurs had. Just with much more crime involved I’m sure. I find it interesting that we still aren’t sure if the asteroid wiped out dinosaurs or if they were already on the path to extinction. Will all the available sciences we have and with a recreated video of the impact I don’t see how we can’t match the dates up. Never the less, the three-metre rule raises interesting thoughts. Could it be that all the fossils decompose in the time it takes to get down 9 feet? Or are a majority of the fossils deep with in the earth and these are just the ones that exposed themselves? This is where the mystery lies, within the questions. The truth of the matter is we never really will know for sure what happened. This event will be like the big bang, confusing people forever.

  5. Nicholas Meyerback April 12, 2019 at 3:56 pm #

    65 million years ago a single object in the solar system had a monumental geological/biological impact when it decided to pay the surface of Earth a visit. The asteroid that struck our green planet was nearly 6 miles wide. It created a crater three times as deep as well as a blast that would make a nuclear explosion appear infinitesimal. The asteroid is most famous for devastating almost all life on earth, most notably the dinosaurs.

    Despite the eradication of nearly all life on earth, the geological event isn’t a story about destruction, but survival. The organisms that survived the attack shed light on evolutionary studies and Darwinist theory. It’s incredible that anything withstood the colossal debris clouds, massive tsunamis, cataclysmic earthquakes and last but not least the forest fires that burned up anything flammable. Following the destruction, an ash cloud cooled the atmosphere and birthed clouds of acid rain. It is amazing that anything survived.
    So how did the organisms that survives manage to pull it off? On natural selection’s ultimate judgment day a few species had the advantage and ended up repopulating the earth. One of the survivors were a type of beaked Jurassic Aves called maniraptora. These birdlike dinosaurs likely scavenged for seeds that endured the blast. Seeds existed for centuries after most of the plants died on earth and provided nutrition during the frigid winters. When the asteroid left its mark the giants that loomed earth’s surface were actually beaten out by their miniature counterparts. Small mammals were the winners of this apocalypse. They likely survived due to their ability to burrow and scavenge. Mammals filled the void left by the absence of their predators and evolved into the large mammals we see today including bears and elephants. Ancient primates also flourished for similar reasons. According to some scientists, these primates would be the common ancestors of all modern primates. Humans exist today thanks to these lemur-like creatures. Although the dinosaurs didn’t fair too well, a few larger animals did advance. Sharks, one of the oldest species on the planet, lasted due to an evolutionary activity. Millions of years before the blast, sharks left their coastal homes and began dwelling in deeper waters. They carried onto the next round of geological history because of this adaptation.

    Unfortunately, the new threat to life on earth is brought by life. Humans are already responsible for the eradication of many endangered species. If the threat of global warming is not thoroughly addressed, humans will be their own demise.

  6. Kayla Clavijo April 12, 2019 at 5:59 pm #

    The extinction of dinosaurs is a mystery in itself that has stumped scientists all over the world for decades, and they still look for new answers every day. Scientists know some background information, but cannot connect the dots to see the bigger picture. Many different theories exist as to why the dinosaurs went extinct. We know for sure most dinosaurs died out around 65 million years ago. The most popular theory is that an asteroid ended the reign of the dinosaurs. In the article, The Day the Dinosaurs Died, the New Yorker presents a group of paleontologist’s findings of how a fossil site in North Dakota had remains from the devastation minutes after an asteroid slammed into Earth about 66 million years ago. They theorized that the impact, near what is now the town of Chicxulub on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, played a role in the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period, when all the dinosaurs (except birds) and much other life on Earth vanished. It was when they realized Dinosaurs were not the only victims of this “mass extinction.” There were many other species that were killed off. During what is known as the K-T boundary extinction many species and families became extinct.

    Robert DePalma, a graduate student in paleontology at the University of Kansas in Lawrence uncovered a record of apocalyptic destruction 3000 kilometers from Chicxulub. DePalma was originally disappointed when he found very little at the fossil site. But then he started digging a little bit more and found fossils covered in little glass balls, which were signs that the fossils had been blown into the air by an asteroid. This fossilized graveyard contained fish stacked on top of one another and mixed in with burned tree trunks, dead mammals, mosasaur bones and insects. According to DePalma this was shocking because at no other K-T boundary section on Earth can you find such a collection consisting of a large number of species representing different ages of organisms and different stages of life, all of which died at the same time, on the same day. This showed proof that dinosaurs went extinct due to ecological fallout from the asteroid impact.

    In essence, I found this article extremely interesting. The KT boundary left an entire layer of its evidence behind on earth which out of all theories, this sounds the most realistic. However, while some paleontologist’s think a large asteroid killed off the dinosaurs, I still think the extinction question will remain unresolved. There is also a lot of evidence to suggest that modern birds evolved from the carnivorous theropod dinosaurs. If this is true, if dinosaurs have living descendants, is it entirely fair to say that the dinosaurs are extinct? Well based on my research many scientists have come to the conclusion that, while dinosaurs may have disappeared, one dinosaur lineage had evolved into birds long before the extinction event that wiped out the other dinosaurs -and so, in a sense, dinosaurs are still around today.

  7. Rayzan Alarashi April 12, 2019 at 6:09 pm #

    It’s incredible to think that scientists in Los Alamos National Laboratory were able to recreate a model of an asteroid strike over 65 million years ago. To have the ability of recreating something of that nature goes to show us once again how advanced technology has gotten. A meteor that was 6 miles wide, creating an 18-mile-deep crater is nothing like anything we’ve ever seen, so to go and recreate that is groundbreaking. Never had I previously known the extent of this asteroids damage, and to think that it equaled the same energy of 1 billion Hiroshima bombs makes me question how any species was able to survive its impact. Discoveries like this are what makes science so interesting and fascinating in my opinion. I’m not sure its even possible to advance our technology any further if it currently has the ability of telling us that the impact of the that asteroid made certain surfaces on earth hotter then the sun. What’s even crazier is that some debris from that impact was launched into space and currently resides in places like Mars or even orbits around the Sun. I can’t imagine something of that caliber happening today since we’ve never really seen anything like it. If merely the soot from the impact prevented sunlight from reaching earth’s surface for months, I can’t image the damage it had on the environment. Reading all the facts from the asteroids impact and the damage it had on earth makes me start to question whether the things we are doing to harm earth today will even have an impact on the future of earth. Its very true that the way we pollute earth has serious consequences, but if at one point 99.99% of living species on earth were wiped out by the asteroid and yet we are still here today, should that not raise some skepticism. Today we worry heavily about the amount of carbon gas and methane that we release into the environment, but if the asteroid caused trillions of carbon dioxide and ten billion tons of methane emission, earth might be more capable of putting up with our pollution than what we had originally thought. One things for sure is that Earth holds immeasurable mysterious and its full capabilities that have yet to be discovered, which is why I believe scientists should continue this sort of research so that one day we know the full history of our earth.

  8. Dylan Flego April 12, 2019 at 6:14 pm #

    We all know about how the dinosaurs were eradicated, even the magnitude of the asteroid’s impact on Earth. But what I find the most interesting as something I did not previously know is the aftermath of the impact not only on Earth, but on other nearby planets and moons. Earth’s planetary neighbor Mars and moons like Saturn’s Titan were subsequently affected by the immense amount of debris flung beyond the atmosphere of our home planet. Having this debris be one of the main factors for harvesting living microbes on other planets is quite fascinating, considering the irony of almost all of existing life on Earth at the time being wiped out by the asteroid. In a sense, it’s like looking at the bright side of a bad situation: despite the destruction of land and ecosystems on Earth, the event allowed for the possibility of new life on nearby cosmic bodies. The visualization of comparing the asteroid’s impact cascading outwards across the surface to a rock being thrown in a pond was a clever analogy too, showcasing how widespread the sheer power of the shock wave really was. But, despite something as catastrophic as this occurring many millions of years ago, is there a possibility that a devastating event similar to this could occur in the future? The answer to this is both yes and no. On one hand, while the chance of an asteroid hitting the Earth with a relatively large impact is statistically small, it is nonetheless inevitable over a matter of undefined time. However, due to advances in technology, especially regarding technology utilized in space, we now possess the ability to potentially track certain asteroids that may be a threat to Earth and do something about it. So, overall it’s a little tricky to flat out say that another major impact could affect us in the future.

  9. Aidan Nathaniel Clee April 12, 2019 at 7:50 pm #

    I read this article because I believe everyone is fascinated by dinosaurs. Giant reptiles walking the earth and it is clear we all have this fascination if you look at all the Hollywood movies inspired by dinosaurs and I think there also is a level of this article that can be inspirational. Although first I understand that it is a long article so i want to point out a couple of parts I found interesting. The simulation about the impact stood out and was quite vivid and if anyone has watched the movie 2012 I would imagine that the impact was something on the level of that destruction times a million. I found beyond that the pictures to be fascinating to see the effects of the earth over all these years. Time as a concept connected to this event is amazing to think about and the fact that we can connect our existence to the impact and that huge level of destruction. It must be faced that the earth goes through its periods and eventually there is going to be another extinction level event and we have to be ready and prepared for that and it could be happening very soon. With the rise of global warming the earth is going through a rough period in which there have been other articles published on this in the blog but the earth could cease to hold life such as us. I think that people should reflect on this kind of event as something to look back to as a reminder as what could happen to us because we aren’t all invincible.

  10. Daniel McNulty April 12, 2019 at 8:09 pm #

    Millions of years ago, when Earth was hit by an asteroid, it wiped out just about every sort of living thing that had previously existed on impact. On impact, the asteroid caused a great deal of debris to fly into the air, some even going into orbit. With no oxygen in the atmosphere, the air was susceptible to pollution, with increases in gases such as methane and carbon monoxide. These gases are some of the most dangerous and harmful gases, capable of killing living things. Douglas Preston, the author of the article, even goes on to mention these greenhouse gases as some of the most harmful in our world today. One thing that intrigued me very much so, is the number of fossils and other remnants that are still being discovered every day. It seems that there is a pattern that is linked between the transitional phase of periods, such as from dinosaurs to today’s world. This commonality is the destruction of life caused by a natural disaster such as an asteroid wiping out almost all life and leaving the atmosphere damaged. The asteroid sent many different parts and pieces all over the planet when it hit, due to the size and severity of the impact. It is unbelievable how strong of an impact this thing had on earth, scattering pieces of different living creatures all over the planet. To know that there are still undiscovered fossils is very intriguing and makes me wonder how much we still do not know about how the earth was many years ago. The article even stated that humans can be easily be occupied for at least the next 50 years, discovering new things. Something tells me that 50 years will not be enough, and we will most likely never discover everything.

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