Asteroid That Killed Dinosaurs; Would You Exist If It Hit Anywhere Else?
About 66 million years ago, an asteroid slammed into the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula at a speed of about 54,000 mph. Massive tsunamis, several-hundred-feet-tall, washed across North and South America wiping out almost all land-faring creatures. Fiery rock fragments rained from the sky, and the atmosphere filled with soot, blocking the Sun for weeks to come. But as it turns out, if this asteroid that killed the dinosaurs had hit the Earth as little as 30 seconds earlier or later, the event might not have been as cataclysmic, and the dinosaurs may not have gone extinct.
What Killed the Dinosaurs?
Where Did the Asteroid That Killed the Dinosaurs Land?
The Chicxulub crater on the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, is the site where the 9-mile-wide asteroid hit, wiping out the dinosaurs. Upon impact, it hit the Earth with a force 10 billion times that of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima during WWII. The earthquake created by this impact would have been 1000 times more intense than any earthquake ever recorded in modern history.
A large amount of heat was released when it struck, but in the weeks to come global temperatures dropped between 14-18 degrees Fahrenheit. On land however, temperatures dropped up to 29 degrees Fahrenheit, due to mass amounts of dust and gas that became trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, blocking out the Sun and eventually killing off the rest of the dinosaurs.
There are two parallel theories about what actually caused this nuclear winter, but both agree that the rare site of impact was what lead to it. This area of sedimentary rock was either sulphur or oil-rich, and areas like these are only present on 13 percent of the Earth’s surface. This means that there was an incredibly narrow window for that asteroid to land where it did, with 87 percent of the Earth’s surface area available for an impact that would not have caused the mass extinction.
There is also plenty of evidence of other large asteroids striking Earth around that time which didn’t lead to a mass extinction, making the timing of this asteroid all the more extraordinary.
What If the Asteroid That Killed the Dinosaurs Missed?
We are bombarded by asteroids and meteors all the time; the most recent destructive instance was in Russia in 2013, in the form of a meteor from a 65-foot, near-earth asteroid. The Chelyabinsk meteor injured 1,500 people and led to tens of millions of dollars in damage, making it the largest and most destructive impact of the century – and it didn’t even hit the ground.
Meteors this size are rare and even larger ones, like the one that killed the dinosaurs, only come around every few million years. Individually, we have 1: 250,000 odds of dying from a meteor strike, and even then, the chance of a meteor hitting land is very slim with 71 percent of Earth’s surface being covered by water. But while most meteors burn up before hitting the Earth, atmospheric impacts can still be destructive.
So, what would have happened if the asteroid didn’t cause the dinosaur apocalypse? Would they still be around today? Would it have impeded our evolution as a species or would they still have gone extinct?
That question is debatable with some scientists believing these prehistoric creatures were already on a path to extinction. The cooling temperature of the Earth could have prevented some species from continuing on, while other species may have survived. Though, some scientists believe certain species of dinosaurs were adapting to the cooler temperatures by shrinking in size.
Was the Impact a Coincidence?
With the precise moment and location that the asteroid hit the Earth, in one of the worst imaginable spots, it could be interesting to entertain the theory that maybe the impact was intentional, if not just highly coincidental. This idea falls in line with the concept of directed panspermia, the theory of an advanced alien race that intentionally seeds a planet with the building blocks of life. Could a highly advanced species have recognized that our planet had the necessary environment to harbor life, but that the dinosaurs would have posed a major impediment to our evolution?
Or to take less of an extraterrestrial creationist position, is there a possibility that the asteroid came from a planet or solar system where life existed, carrying microorganisms to seed Earth? This type of theory is actually accommodated by more mainstream views. In fact, it has been proven that the asteroid strike catapulted rocks capable of containing lifeforms to the far reaches of our solar system, possibly landing on Mars and habitable moons of Jupiter. While this type of biological seeding between planets in a solar system is likely, intergalactic panspermia would be a bit more difficult.
There is ample evidence that shows large, meteoric impacts likely brought the building blocks of life to Earth, over 4 billion years ago. Bacteria, sugars and amino acids could have hitched rides on these space rocks, crash landed on Earth, and germinated the planet. If these planets, moons, or other celestial bodies contained frozen water, the impact could have melted the ice, creating a habitable environment for life to incubate.
Could the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs have fit somewhere between these two hypotheses? Or was it all merely coincidental?