Scientists find more answers to the mystery of a 66-million-year-old meteor fire

Scientists find more answers to the mystery of a 66-million-year-old meteor fire

Scientists find more answers to the mystery of a 66-million-year-old meteor fire

The meteor that wiped out Earth's dinosaurs instantly ignited forest fires up to thousands of kilometers from its impact zone, scientists said in a new report (PA Media) (PA Media)

The meteor that wiped out Earth’s dinosaurs instantly ignited forest fires up to thousands of kilometers from its impact zone, scientists said in a new report (PA Media) (PA Media)

Scientists found that the meteor that wiped the dinosaurs off Earth instantly ignited forest fires up to thousands of kilometers from its impact zone.

The meteorite about six miles wide struck the Yucatan Peninsula in what is now Mexico at the end of the Cretaceous period 66 million years ago.

Its devastating impact brought the dinosaur kingdom to an abrupt end triggering their sudden mass extinction, along with the demise of nearly three-quarters of the plant and animal species that lived on Earth at the time, scientists say.

Debate has surrounded the circumstances behind the devastating fires known to have been caused by the strike, with differing theories as to how and when they started and the extent of their impact.

Ultimately, our research confirms how and when these devastating fires started and paints a vivid and rather terrifying picture of what happened right after the meteor strike.

Professor Ben Kneller of the University of Aberdeen

Analyzing the rocks dating back to the time of the strike, a team of geoscientists from the UK, Mexico and Brazil recently found that some of the fires broke out within minutes, at most, of impact, in areas extending up to 2,500 km. (1,553 miles) or more from where Earth was hit.

In a newly published study, they said the fires that broke out in coastal areas were short-lived, as the ebb from the mega-tsunami caused by the impact wiped out charred trees offshore.

And by studying the fossilized tree bark, the geoscientists found that the fires had already started when the trees were blown away soon after the initial impact.

They concluded that this was due to an epic-magnitude fireball or the heat of molten rock droplets falling back into the atmosphere immediately upon impact.

Professor Ben Kneller, of the University of Aberdeen School of Geosciences, is among the co-authors of the latest study, which included scientists from the Autonomous University of Mexico, the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, the University of Leeds and of the University of Manchester.

He said: “So far it is unclear whether the fires were caused directly by the impact or subsequently, as the vegetation killed by the post-impact darkness caused by the debris thrown into the atmosphere was set on fire by such things as lightning.

‘By bringing this international team together we were able to apply a unique combination of chemical, isotopic, paleontological, paleobotanical, chemical and spectroscopic techniques, along with geological mapping, first to confirm that the rocks we analyzed date back exactly to the impact.

“We then analyzed the fossil bark still attached to the tree trunks to determine the extent of the fire, and found that the bark was already charred as the trees were wiped out by the impact-related tsunami. This shows that the fires must be started within minutes, at most, of impact.

“Ultimately, our research confirms how and when these devastating fires started and paints a vivid and rather terrifying picture of what happened right after the meteor strike.”

The study was supported by Shell Brazil as part of the Brazilian government’s Science without Borders program and published in Scientific Reports.

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