Chicxulub Crater: Digging For Clues

May 30, 2016 By Rachel Catherine
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Sixty-six million years ago a single impact wiped out an entire population. Since then the extinction of the dinosaurs has been a topic of great fascination for many people.

Although advances in science have answered many questions about dinosaurs, they remain somewhat of a mystery. This is why scientists are celebrating the success of the Chicxulub crater project.

The Chicxulub crater is located off the coast of Mexico, near the town of Chicxulub. In 2004, the crater was confirmed to be the infamous site of the asteroid that hit earth 66 million years ago, plunging the Earth into darkness and wiping out the dinosaurs. The crater is approximately 180km (110 miles) wide and 20km (12 miles) deep.

The Crater

When an asteroid strikes the Earth, two rings are formed - the "outer ring" is the outer rim of the crater on Earth's upper crust. The "peak ring" is the center of the impact hole where the rocks that were compressed by the impact rebounded and settled.

A team of scientists headed by the United States and the United Kingdom is particularly interested in obtaining rocks from the “peak ring."  The scientists used a “liftboat” called Myrtle as its drilling platform since much of the impact zone is actually in the ocean, in the Gulf of Mexico. Although the team fell short of the original goal of reaching 1,500m, they have recovered enough material and samples from the "peak ring" to answer some key science questions. 

What Are The Questions?

The samples that the team collected are extremely fragile so they will be transported to an American lab in metal casings stacked in a refrigerated container.

At the lab, they will undergo a series of CT scans to examine their interior structure. But this is only the beginning of the numerous tests that will be run to gain answers. After America, the samples will go to Bremen, Germany, where a team of thirty-three scientists will gather to subject the rocks to other tests. 

The main information the scientists are hoping to gain from the rocks is how the crater formed, the energy involved in its creation, and the volume of material that was dispersed when the asteroid hit earth. Scientists might also be able to tell things such as how fast life was able to return to the impacted area after the asteroid hit.