SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Impact event

200

The cause of the end-Cretaceous (KPg) mass extinction is still debated due to difficulty separating the influences of two closely timed potential causal events: eruption of the Deccan Traps volcanic province and impact of the Chicxulub meteorite. Here we combine published extinction patterns with a new clumped isotope temperature record from a hiatus-free, expanded KPg boundary section from Seymour Island, Antarctica. We document a 7.8±3.3 °C warming synchronous with the onset of Deccan Traps volcanism and a second, smaller warming at the time of meteorite impact. Local warming may have been amplified due to simultaneous disappearance of continental or sea ice. Intra-shell variability indicates a possible reduction in seasonality after Deccan eruptions began, continuing through the meteorite event. Species extinction at Seymour Island occurred in two pulses that coincide with the two observed warming events, directly linking the end-Cretaceous extinction at this site to both volcanic and meteorite events via climate change.

Concepts: Impact event, Cretaceous, Global warming, Dinosaur, Extinction event, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Deccan Plateau, Deccan Traps

189

Sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid approximately 9 km in diameter hit the hydrocarbon- and sulfur-rich sedimentary rocks in what is now Mexico. Recent studies have shown that this impact at the Yucatan Peninsula heated the hydrocarbon and sulfur in these rocks, forming stratospheric soot and sulfate aerosols and causing extreme global cooling and drought. These events triggered a mass extinction, including dinosaurs, and led to the subsequent macroevolution of mammals. The amount of hydrocarbon and sulfur in rocks varies widely, depending on location, which suggests that cooling and extinction levels were dependent on impact site. Here we show that the probability of significant global cooling, mass extinction, and the subsequent appearance of mammals was quite low after an asteroid impact on the Earth’s surface. This significant event could have occurred if the asteroid hit the hydrocarbon-rich areas occupying approximately 13% of the Earth’s surface. The site of asteroid impact, therefore, changed the history of life on Earth.

Concepts: Evolution, Earth, Impact event, Jupiter, Metamorphic rock, Dinosaur, Extinction event, Asteroid

153

The mass extinction of life 66 million years ago at the Cretaceous/Paleogene boundary, marked by the extinctions of dinosaurs and shallow marine organisms, is important because it led to the macroevolution of mammals and appearance of humans. The current hypothesis for the extinction is that an asteroid impact in present-day Mexico formed condensed aerosols in the stratosphere, which caused the cessation of photosynthesis and global near-freezing conditions. Here, we show that the stratospheric aerosols did not induce darkness that resulted in milder cooling than previously thought. We propose a new hypothesis that latitude-dependent climate changes caused by massive stratospheric soot explain the known mortality and survival on land and in oceans at the Cretaceous/Paleogene boundary. The stratospheric soot was ejected from the oil-rich area by the asteroid impact and was spread globally. The soot aerosols caused sufficiently colder climates at mid-high latitudes and drought with milder cooling at low latitudes on land, in addition to causing limited cessation of photosynthesis in global oceans within a few months to two years after the impact, followed by surface-water cooling in global oceans in a few years. The rapid climate change induced terrestrial extinctions followed by marine extinctions over several years.

Concepts: Earth, Climate, Weather, Climate change, Meteorology, Impact event, Dinosaur, Extinction event

99

Whether dinosaurs were in a long-term decline or whether they were reigning strong right up to their final disappearance at the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction event 66 Mya has been debated for decades with no clear resolution. The dispute has continued unresolved because of a lack of statistical rigor and appropriate evolutionary framework. Here, for the first time to our knowledge, we apply a Bayesian phylogenetic approach to model the evolutionary dynamics of speciation and extinction through time in Mesozoic dinosaurs, properly taking account of previously ignored statistical violations. We find overwhelming support for a long-term decline across all dinosaurs and within all three dinosaurian subclades (Ornithischia, Sauropodomorpha, and Theropoda), where speciation rate slowed down through time and was ultimately exceeded by extinction rate tens of millions of years before the K-Pg boundary. The only exceptions to this general pattern are the morphologically specialized herbivores, the Hadrosauriformes and Ceratopsidae, which show rapid species proliferations throughout the Late Cretaceous instead. Our results highlight that, despite some heterogeneity in speciation dynamics, dinosaurs showed a marked reduction in their ability to replace extinct species with new ones, making them vulnerable to extinction and unable to respond quickly to and recover from the final catastrophic event.

Concepts: Evolution, Impact event, Extinction, Cretaceous, Dinosaur, Extinction event, Triassic, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event

83

Bolide impact and flood volcanism compete as leading candidates for the cause of terminal-Cretaceous mass extinctions. High-precision (40)Ar/(39)Ar data indicate that these two mechanisms may be genetically related, and neither can be considered in isolation. The existing Deccan Traps magmatic system underwent a state shift approximately coincident with the Chicxulub impact and the terminal-Cretaceous mass extinctions, after which ~70% of the Traps' total volume was extruded in more massive and more episodic eruptions. Initiation of this new regime occurred within ~50,000 years of the impact, which is consistent with transient effects of impact-induced seismic energy. Postextinction recovery of marine ecosystems was probably suppressed until after the accelerated volcanism waned.

Concepts: Impact event, Dinosaur, Extinction event, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Chicxulub crater, Chicxulub, Yucatán, Deccan Traps, Shiva crater

73

Earth is continuously colliding with fragments of asteroids and comets of various sizes. The largest encounter in historical times occurred over the Tunguska river in Siberia in 1908, producing an airburst of energy equivalent to 5-15 megatons of trinitrotoluene (1 kiloton of trinitrotoluene represents an energy of 4.185 × 10(12) joules). Until recently, the next most energetic airburst events occurred over Indonesia in 2009 and near the Marshall Islands in 1994, both with energies of several tens of kilotons. Here we report an analysis of selected video records of the Chelyabinsk superbolide of 15 February 2013, with energy equivalent to 500 kilotons of trinitrotoluene, and details of its atmospheric passage. We found that its orbit was similar to the orbit of the two-kilometre-diameter asteroid 86039 (1999 NC43), to a degree of statistical significance sufficient to suggest that the two were once part of the same object. The bulk strength-the ability to resist breakage-of the Chelyabinsk asteroid, of about one megapascal, was similar to that of smaller meteoroids and corresponds to a heavily fractured single stone. The asteroid broke into small pieces between the altitudes of 45 and 30 kilometres, preventing more-serious damage on the ground. The total mass of surviving fragments larger than 100 grams was lower than expected.

Concepts: Energy, Mass, Kinetic energy, Impact event, Asteroid, Comet, Units of energy, TNT equivalent

67

Impact ejected rocks are targets for life detection missions to Mars. The Martian subsurface is more favourable to organic preservation than the surface owing to an attenuation of radiation and physical separation from oxidising materials with increasing depth. Impact events bring materials to the surface where they may be accessed without complicated drilling procedures. On Earth, different assemblages of organic matter types are derived from varying depositional environments. Here we assess whether these different types of organic materials can survive impact events without corruption. We subjected four terrestrial organic matter types to elevated pressures and temperatures in piston-cylinder experiments followed by chemical characterisation using whole-rock pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Our data reveal that long chain hydrocarbon-dominated organic matter (types I and II; mainly microbial or algal) are unresistant to pressure whereas aromatic hydrocarbon-dominated organic matter types (types III and IV; mainly land plant, metamorphosed or degraded, displaying some superficial chemical similarities to abiotic meteoritic organic matter) are relatively resistant. This suggests that the impact excavated record of potential biology on Mars will be unavoidably biased, with microbial organic matter underrepresented while metamorphosed, degraded or abiotic meteoritic organic matter types will be selectively preserved.

Concepts: Chemistry, Mars, Thermodynamics, Impact event, Humus, Organic matter, Meteorite, Biotic material

54

Most large (over a kilometre in diameter) near-Earth asteroids are now known, but recognition that airbursts (or fireballs resulting from nuclear-weapon-sized detonations of meteoroids in the atmosphere) have the potential to do greater damage than previously thought has shifted an increasing portion of the residual impact risk (the risk of impact from an unknown object) to smaller objects. Above the threshold size of impactor at which the atmosphere absorbs sufficient energy to prevent a ground impact, most of the damage is thought to be caused by the airburst shock wave, but owing to lack of observations this is uncertain. Here we report an analysis of the damage from the airburst of an asteroid about 19 metres (17 to 20 metres) in diameter southeast of Chelyabinsk, Russia, on 15 February 2013, estimated to have an energy equivalent of approximately 500 (±100) kilotons of trinitrotoluene (TNT, where 1 kiloton of TNT = 4.185×10(12) joules). We show that a widely referenced technique of estimating airburst damage does not reproduce the observations, and that the mathematical relations based on the effects of nuclear weapons-almost always used with this technique-overestimate blast damage. This suggests that earlier damage estimates near the threshold impactor size are too high. We performed a global survey of airbursts of a kiloton or more (including Chelyabinsk), and find that the number of impactors with diameters of tens of metres may be an order of magnitude higher than estimates based on other techniques. This suggests a non-equilibrium (if the population were in a long-term collisional steady state the size-frequency distribution would either follow a single power law or there must be a size-dependent bias in other surveys) in the near-Earth asteroid population for objects 10 to 50 metres in diameter, and shifts more of the residual impact risk to these sizes.

Concepts: Mars, Thermodynamics, Estimation, Impact event, Shock wave, Asteroid, Meteoroid, Near-Earth object

51

Analysis of data, recorded on March 8th 2014 at the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation’s hydroacoustic stations off Cape Leeuwin Western Australia, and at Diego Garcia, reveal unique pressure signatures that could be associated with objects impacting at the sea surface, such as falling meteorites, or the missing Malaysian Aeroplane MH370. To examine the recorded signatures, we carried out experiments with spheres impacting at the surface of a water tank, where we observed almost identical pressure signature structures. While the pressure structure is unique to impacting objects, the evolution of the radiated acoustic waves carries information on the source. Employing acoustic-gravity wave theory we present an analytical inverse method to retrieve the impact time and location. The solution was validated using field observations of recent earthquakes, where we were able to calculate the eruption time and location to a satisfactory degree of accuracy. Moreover, numerical validations confirm an error below 0.02% for events at relatively large distances of over 1000 km. The method can be developed to calculate other essential properties such as impact duration and geometry. Besides impacting objects and earthquakes, the method could help in identifying the location of underwater explosions and landslides.

Concepts: Scientific method, Fundamental physics concepts, Structure, Wave, Hypothesis, Acoustics, Impact event, Explosion

47

From mid-Ordovician ∼470 Myr-old limestone >100 fossil L-chondritic meteorites have been recovered, representing the markedly enhanced flux of meteorites to Earth following the breakup of the L-chondrite parent body. Recently one anomalous meteorite, Österplana 065 (Öst 65), was found in the same beds that yield L chondrites. The cosmic-ray exposure age of Öst 65 shows that it may be a fragment of the impactor that broke up the L-chondrite parent body. Here we show that in a chromium versus oxygen-isotope plot Öst 65 falls outside all fields encompassing the known meteorite types. This may be the first documented example of an ‘extinct’ meteorite, that is, a meteorite type that does not fall on Earth today because its parent body has been consumed by collisions. The meteorites found on Earth today apparently do not give a full representation of the kind of bodies in the asteroid belt ∼500 Myr ago.

Concepts: Iron, Chondrite, Mars, Impact event, Meteorite, Asteroid, Comet, Asteroid belt