Dinosaurs were impressive, fascinating, and pretty much the flat-out coolest creatures to have ever existed. But they were also huge. And full of sharp teeth. Even plant-eating ones didn't exactly look gentle (we're not getting into an argument with a Stegosaurus, you know?). So maybe we're not that sad they're extinct?
But according to a new study led by Japanese paleontologist Kunio Kaiho, we could possibly be hanging with our dino pals right now if only that asteroid had landed a little to the left.
Rich deposits of fuel for the fire
65 million years ago, dinosaurs had the unfortunate luck of having an asteroid hit Earth in one of the worst possible places. Dr. Kaiho claims that if it had hit anywhere in 87 percent of the rest of the planet's surface, you may have had that Sunday playdate with a Triceratops you've always been dreaming about.
The Chicxulub crater (say CHEEK-chu-loob), named after the nearby town of Chicxulub, Mexico, is found just north of the Yucatan Peninsula. This is where an asteroid about half the width of Manhattan struck the planet with terrifying force. The impact ignited massive amounts of sulfur and hydrocarbons trapped in the rock. In other words, this area was loaded with fossil fuels. And the asteroid was the match that set this powder keg of fuel on fire!
The researchers claim that the resulting explosion sent an unbelievable amount of soot (black carbon) into the upper atmosphere. This super heated material was quickly carried around the world, causing a) firestorms around the planet, and b) a thick blanket of dense, toxic smog that eventually dropped Earth's temperature by around 18 degrees Fahrenheit.
We know the rest of the story. Freezing and choking on poisoned air, plant life died and three-quarters of animal life followed.
So how would the story be changed by a different location?
Less soot, less death
Basically, the Japanese researchers say that most of the rest of Earth didn't have the same rich deposits of fossil fuels. The asteroid's impact was always going to be deadly. But it would not have been as deadly if it had only hit somewhere else. Less fossil fuels to burn = less soot released = more species able to survive.
Of course, not all scientists agree. They feel that most of the soot in the atmosphere actually came from the worldwide firestorms that followed the impact. So that soot was getting into the sky regardless. But Dr. Kaiho said that his analysis proves that the soot that travelled around the globe came from Chicxulub.
However it happened, dinosaurs are indeed extinct. It's sad for them, sure. But having just watched Jurassic World again recently, we're pretty sure that things worked out well for the rest of us.