We’re Going To Drill Into The Crater From The Asteroid That Killed The Dinosaurs To Find Out What Really Happened
Bros, are you ready to science the dick out of the past? Because we are about to science the dick out of the past.
Sixty-five million years ago, a six-mile wide asteroid, traveling at 50,000 miles per hour, slammed into the Earth, releasing the equivalent of, oh, 300 million nuclear bombs in an instant. It was COOL.
Wanna watch another one of those? It’s Friday. We aren’t in any rush.
Now, a team of scientists is going to drill into the heart of the Chixculub impact crater and extract samples, hoping to determine just what went down.
They want to find out how long it took life to return to ground zero, and whether, with the impact, came any alien microbial life.
From Science Mag:
They hope that the retrieved rock cores will contain clues to how life came back in the wake of the cataclysm, and whether the crater itself could have been a home for novel microbial life. And by drilling into a circular ridge inside the 180-kilometer-wide crater rim, scientists hope to settle ideas about how such “peak rings,” hallmarks of the largest impact craters, take shape.
“Chicxulub is the only preserved structure with an intact peak ring that we can get to,” says University of Texas, Austin, geophysicist Sean Gulick, co–chief scientist for the $10 million project, sponsored by the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) and the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program. “All the other ones are either on another planet, or they’ve been eroded.”
The crater, which is off the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, rests below 55 feet or so of water. Below that is some 1,600 feet of limestone that’s been deposited over time. Once they get through all that mess, they’ll extract core samples and analyze them.
The holy grail they are looking for are peak rings.
The IODP team wants to test a leading model for peak ring formation, in which granite from Earth’s depths rebounds after a major impact, like water struck by stone, to form a central tower, taller than the crater rim. In minutes, the tower would collapse and collide with material slumping in from the rims to form the peak ring. Confirmation for the model could come from finding rocks “out of order”: deep rocks, probably granite, brought up in the central tower, lying atop originally shallower younger rocks.
Still don’t understand them? Here’s a gif.
There’s hope that within those rings, microbial life could have formed.
Remote sensing has already suggested that the peak ring is less dense than expected for a granite—a sign that the rocks are porous and fractured in places. It is possible that these fractures, in the wake of the impact, were filled with hot fluids. “Those will be preferred spots for microbes to grow, but it depends whether the fractures have energy and nutrients,” says Charles Cockell, an astrobiologist on the IODP team at the University of Edinburgh.
If microbes are discovered, they could be drastically different than anything we’ve ever seen before.
They will count and culture any microbes still living in the fractures, and sequence DNA to look for the genes responsible for metabolic pathways. Those genes might show that peak ring microbes—descendants of those that lived after the impact—derive their energy not from carbon and oxygen, like most microbes, but from iron or sulfur deposited by hot fluids percolating through the fractured rock.
Wild fucking shit. Drilling begins April 1, and scientists expect it to take two month to reach the crater.
[Via Science Mag]