The Plan to Drill into the Crater from the Dinosaur-Killing Meteorite

Illustration for article titled The Plan to Drill into the Crater from the Dinosaur-Killing Meteorite

Sixty-five million years ago, a meteorite careened into Earth, leaving a huge crater on the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. The impact is likely responsible for killing off the most of the dinosaurs—along with 75 percent of all species on Earth. Scientists are now planning an expedition to drill into the middle of the crater.

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What look so long? This is, after all, possibly the most infamous meteorite impact of all time. But the Chicxulub crater’s center is also inaccessible, buried under ocean waters and now thousands of feet of sediment. Last week, scientists gathered in Merida, Mexico to discuss an expedition that will get to the bottom of it.

Illustration for article titled The Plan to Drill into the Crater from the Dinosaur-Killing Meteorite
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An artist’s impression of the Chicxulub asteroid. Painting by Donald E. Davis.

The expedition, led by scientists at the University of Texas at Austin and Imperial College London, will sample the crater’s “peak ring,” or the elevated rock that circle the Chicxulub’s center. Since the crater is in the middle of the ocean, the team will have to drill from an offshore platform. They will then take a core sample stretching to 5000 feet below the seabed to extract back the first core sample ever of the crater center’s rock layer. The entire core, stretching back 65 million years, will also tell the tale of how marine life recovered from the catastrophic impact.

Should all go according to the plan, the team will set sail in spring of 2016, finally probing the crater that has long eluded scientists peering into it.

[University of Texas]

Top image: NASA/JPL-Caltech, modified by David Fuchs


Contact the author at sarah@gizmodo.com.

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DISCUSSION

Reader’s guide for Russian literature majors: everywhere in the world there’s a layer of sediment rich in the element Iridium. This was a mystery, as Iridium is very heavy and sinks to the earth’s core; it’s rare in the earth’s crust. This thin layer divides the Cretaceous from the Tertiary layer: below it there are many dinosaur bones, above it almost none. Asteroids are richer in Iridium, leading physicist Luis Alvarez to hypothesize in 1980 that a big asteroid impact killed off the dinosaurs. Immediate effects would be blast and fire, with secondary volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and world-spanning dust clouds. In 1990 researchers identified the Chicxulub crater as being the just right size and age.