The devastating asteroid strike that killed the dinosaurs may have triggered a powerful “mega-quake” that shook the Earth for months.
A massive solar system body 66 million years ago — now known as the Chicxulub asteroid – Collided with Earth while excavating a huge 180 km (110 miles) large impact crater that would later become the Yucatan Peninsula.
This collision, combined with the devastation caused by the initial impact, triggered a chain of catastrophic events that wiped out 75 percent of all life on Earth.
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Now, new research analyzing the geological record from this traumatic period in our planet’s history has revealed that it may have triggered a “mega-quake” that lasted weeks or even months before the devastating impact subsided.
The research was presented Oct. 9 at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. Hermann Bermúdez of Montclair State University – one of the scientists working on the study.
In 2014, Bermúdez discovered a series of tiny glass spheres and shards, roughly 1 millimeter in size, buried among sediments on Gorgonilla Island, off the west coast of Colombia.
These tiny remnants were formed the day the asteroid Chicxulub hit the surface. The impact hurled large amounts of molten material into the atmosphere, which then coalesced, cooled, and fell back to Earth as glassy balls and irregularly shaped debris.
When the asteroid hit, the area Bermúdez was digging was actually underwater. Despite being about 3,000 km (1,860 miles) from the impact site, the underwater landscape was deformed by the force of the event. Traces of this deformation extending 10-15 m (30 – 50 ft) underground are still evident to this day.
Bermúdez and his co-researchers have also documented faults, fissures, and evidence of a process called liquefaction in Mexico and the United States—where water-saturated sediments flow freely like water under the vibrating effect of an earthquake.
by Press release Summing up the presentation from the Geological Society of America (GSA), the earthquake that shook the Earth after the extinction event was roughly 50,000 times stronger than the 9.1 magnitude earthquake that devastated Sumatra in 2004.
The researchers found that the shaking-induced disruption extends through the sediment layer from the point the asteroid struck to where the team found the tiny glass spheres on Gorgonilla Island.
Geological evidence suggests that the superquake must have taken weeks or even months for debris from the impact to settle into the atmosphere and then the oceanic environment to the seafloor.
Just above this layer, the team discovered spores from the ferns, indicating that the environment had settled down enough to allow plant life to re-establish itself at this point.
The damage from the earthquake would have contributed to the devastation caused by the event’s powerful tsunamis and atmospheric debris circulation.
NASA and its partners recently world’s first planetary defense mission — Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) – when a spacecraft crashes into the surface of a distant asteroid to change its orbital trajectory.
The agency hopes this mission is the first step towards developing an effective strategy that could one day save our race and all life on Earth from the dangers of another potentially devastating asteroid strike.
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Anthony Wood is a freelance science writer for IGN.
Image credit: Vadim Sadovski
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