Researchers pinpoint possible origin of the dinosaur-killing asteroid


The asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs hit Earth near Mexico. The large rocky object known as the Chicxulub impactor had an estimated width of about 10 km. A crater was formed that covers an area of ​​about 145 km, and the impact is blamed not only for the extinction of the dinosaurs, but also for about 75 percent of all animal species at the time. This mass extinction occurred 66 million years ago and was widely accepted as the end of the Mesozoic Era. Now researchers have found out where the marauding asteroid came from.

Using computer models, the researchers examined 130,000 model asteroids to conclude that it, along with others in the main asteroid belt, orbited the sun before crashing to Earth.

Researchers at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Texas said the impactor likely came from the outer half of the main asteroid belt. The asteroid belt lies between Mars and Jupiter.

The researchers also say the processes that bring large asteroids from this region to Earth are at least ten times more common than previously thought. The SwRI team, including lead researcher Dr. David Nesvorný and colleagues Dr. William Bottke and Dr. Simone Marchi said that several studies have been conducted over the past decade on the mass extinction that ended the reign of the dinosaurs, but each one of them raised new questions.

Two critical questions remained unanswered, said Bottke. One was about the source of the impactor and the other was about the frequency of those earth crashes. So the researchers began to know more about the asteroid, which led to their identification of the Chicxulub impactor as a carbonaceous chondrite. Many objects that surround the earth have compositions similar to the impactor, but they are much smaller. “We decided to find out where the Chicxulub impactor siblings could be hiding,” said Nesvorný.

The researchers then used NASA’s Pleaides supercomputer. To their surprise, they found that 6 mile wide asteroids from the outer half of the asteroid belt hit Earth at least ten times more often than previously found.

Study co-author Marchi described the results as “fascinating”.


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