The asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs triggered a powerful “mega-earthquake” that rocked the Earth in recent months.
66 million years ago a huge body of the solar system – now known as the asteroid Chicxulub – collided with Earth, excavating a huge 180 km (110 miles) wide impact crater in what would later become the Yucatan Peninsula.
This collision sets off a chain of cataclysmic events which, combined with the devastation caused by the first impact, wiped out 75 percent of all life on Earth.
Dueling Dinosaurs Fossil Photo Gallery
Now, new research, drawn from this traumatic period in our geologic history, shows that the devastating impact could trigger “mega-earthquakes” that last for weeks, or even months, before slowing down.
The research was presented on October 9 at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America by Hermann Bermúdez of Montclair State University – one of the scientists who worked on the study.
Back in 2014, Bermúdez found a series of tiny glass spheres and shards of tiny spheres, roughly 1 millimeter in size, buried among the sediment on Gorgonilla Island, which is located off the west coast of Colombia.
These small remnants were formed the day the Chicxulub asteroid hit the surface. The impact sent huge amounts of molten material high into the atmosphere, which then melted and cooled, falling back to Earth in the form of glassy balls and irregular debris.
At the time the asteroid hit, the Bermúdez excavation site was actually under water. Despite being located some 3,000 km (1,860 miles) from the impact site, the landscape of the conduit was deformed by the force of the event. Traces of this deformation — extending 10 — 15 m (30 — 50 ft) underground — are still visible today.
Bermúdez and co-researchers also documented faults, cracks and signs of a process called liquefaction — in which water-saturated sediments flow spontaneously as water under the influence of an earthquake pulse — in Mexico, in the United States.
According to a press release from the Geological Society of America (GSA), the earthquake that shook the extinction event was nearly 50,000 times more powerful than the magnitude 9.1 earthquake that devastated Sumatra in 2004.
The researchers found that the disturbance shock extended through the sediment layer from the point where the asteroid hit, all the way to where the team found the glass balls on Gorgonilla Island.
Geological evidence shows that the super-quake lasted for weeks, or even months, due to the impact of the debris being ejected to descend through the atmosphere, and then the ocean environment, to settle in the sea.
Beneath this layer, a group of spores from ferns was found, which indicates that the environment was sufficiently established in this place to allow plant life to restore itself.
The earthquake damage was added to the population by the powerful tsunamis and the atmospheric circulation debris brought to the event.
NASA and its partners recently completed the world’s first planetary defense mission – the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) — by which space crashes into the surface of distant asteroids in an attempt to change the orbital trajectory.
The agency hopes that this mission is the first step on the way to developing an effective strategy that will one day save our species — and all life on Earth — from the dangers of another potentially devastating asteroid.
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Anthony Wood is just a science writer at IGN
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