Fossil Discovery Offers Glimpse Into DinosaurKiller Impact

first_img Egg Fossils Provide Glimpse Into Prehistoric ParentingBoy Uncovers Rare Woolly Mammoth Tooth Outside Ohio Resort Stay on target In a scientific first, researchers discovered a detailed snapshot of the moments following the most cataclysmic event in our planet’s history.Digging around North Dakota’s Hell Creek Formation, paleontologists unearthed a gold mine of animal and fish fossils—well-preserved creatures killed suddenly by the Chicxulub impactor.It is widely believed that a celestial body known as the Chicxulub impactor (or, more speculatively, the Chicxulub asteroid) struck Earth at the end of the Cretaceous period, decimating 75 percent of the planet’s animal and plant species.A core sample from Robert DePalma’s dig site, which may hold a precise geological transcript of the asteroid strike that almost wiped out life on the planet (via Richard Barnes/The New Yorker)Flooding, earthquakes, and infernos ravished the globe; tiny beads of natural glass called tektites rained down before dust and soot clouded the atmosphere. The dinosaurs didn’t stand a chance.Gravel-sized tektites showered the dead, covering their bodies and settling into the soil.Some 66 million years later, as their skeletons are pulled from the ground, scientists are gaining an inside look at what happened when the wandering star hit.In a paper published today by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, geologist Robert DePalma describes the haul: fossils found in the Hell Creek Formation, which stretches over portions of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.The Tanis site at Hell Creek was already “magnificently significant,” according to DePalma, a doctoral student at the University of Kansas (KU). But since his team’s discovery, the area has become even more important.“When we noticed asteroid impact debris within the sediment and a compact layer of KT [Cretaceous-Tertiary] boundary clay resting on top of it from the long-term fallout,” DePalma explained, “we realized that this unusual site was right at the KT boundary.”Sure, we’ve long understood that bad things happened after the impact—most notably, dinosaur extinction and the rise of human beings. But no one has found what study co-author David Burnham called “this kind of smoking-gun evidence,” until now.Robert DePalma may have filled the gap in the fossil record (via Richard Barnes/The New Yorker)“People have said, ‘We get that this blast killed the dinosaurs, but why don’t we have dead bodies everywhere?’ Well, now we have bodies,” Burnham, of the KU Biodiversity Institute, explained, citing several new fish species discovered at Hell Creek. “They’re not dinosaurs, but I think those will eventually be found, too.”This ancient encounter—made possible by an international team of paleontologists—provides new details about what is perhaps the most important event to ever affect life on Earth.“It’s difficult not to get choked up and passionate about this topic,” DePalma said. “This particular event is tied directly to all of us—to every mammal on Earth, in fact. Because this is essentially where we inherited the planet. Nothing was the same after that impact. It became a planet of mammals rather than a planet of dinosaurs.”More on Space Telescope Observes Rare Self-Destructing AsteroidScientists Study Roadkill to Learn About DinosaursAmazingly Well-Preserved Fossil Shines Light on Ancient Ichthyosaurlast_img