Dino-asteroid hit Earth at ‘deadliest possible’ angle
PARIS, May 27: This much we knew: some 66 million years ago an asteroid roughly twice the diameter of Paris crashed into Earth, wiping out all land-dwelling dinosaurs and 75 percent of life on the planet.
What remained a mystery was whether it was a direct hit or more of a glancing blow, and which would be more destructive.
As it turns out, according to a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications, the giant space rock struck at the "deadliest possible" angle -- 60 degrees.
The cataclysmic impact kicked up enough debris and gases into the upper atmosphere to radically change the climate, dooming T-Rex and everything it ever hunted to extinction.
Analysing the structure of the 200-kilometre-wide crater in southern Mexico where the asteroid hit, scientists ran a series of simulations.
Lead author Gareth Collins of Imperial College London and colleagues at the University of Freiburg and the University of Texas at Austin looked at four possible impact angles -- 90, 60, 45 and 30 degrees -- and two impact speeds, 12 and 20 kilometres per second.
The best fit with the data from the crater was a 60 degree strike.
"Sixty degrees is a more lethal impact angle because it ejects a larger amount of material fast enough to engulf the planet," Collins told AFP.
"The Chicxulub impact triggered a mass extinction because it ejected huge quantities of dust and gas out of the crater fast enough to disperse around the globe."
Had the asteroid hit head on or at a more oblique angle, not as much debris would have been thrown up into the atmosphere, he added.
Large amounts of sulphur in the form of tiny particles that remained suspended in the air blocked the Sun, cooling the climate by several degrees Celsius. -AFP