Crater that killed the dinosaurs reveals how broken rocks can flow like liquid

Crater that killed the dinosaurs reveals how broken rocks can flow like liquid
A mile-long sediment core drilled by the International Ocean Discovery Program helped researchers uncover how the Chicxulub crater formed. Credit: International Ocean Discovery Program

Sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid the size of a small city smashed into the earth. This impact, the one that would lead to the end of the dinosaurs, left a scar several miles underground and more than 115 miles wide.

Chicxulub, which lies underneath the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, is the best-preserved large crater on Earth, although it's buried underneath a half mile of rocks. It's also the only crater on the planet with a mountainous ring of smashed rocks inside its outer rim, called a peak ring. How these features form has long been debated, but a new study in Nature shows they're a product of extremely strong vibrations in the Earth that let rock flow like liquid for a crucial few minutes after the impact.

When an asteroid crashes into the , it leaves a bowl-shaped pit, just like you'd expect. But it doesn't just leave a dent. If the asteroid is big enough, the resulting crater can be more than 20 miles deep, at which point it becomes unstable and collapses.

"For a while, the broken rock behaves as a fluid," said Jay Melosh, a professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences at Purdue University. "There have been a lot of theories proposed about what mechanism allows this fluidization to happen, and now we know it's really strong vibrations shaking the rock constantly enough to allow it to flow."

This mechanism, known as "acoustic fluidization," is the process that allows the ring of mountains in the crater's center to rise within minutes of the asteroid's strike. (This idea was first proposed by Melosh in 1979). Craters are essentially the same on all the terrestrial planets (Earth, Mercury, Venus, Mars and our moon), but they're hard to study in space for obvious reasons: We can't look at them with the same detail we can on Earth.

The Chicxulub crater isn't easily accessible by traditional standards either; it's been buried throughout the last 66 million years. So the International Ocean Discovery Program (a group within the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program), did the only thing they could—they dug. The team drilled a core roughly six inches in diameter and a mile into the Earth, collecting rock that was shattered and partly melted by the impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.

In examining fracture zones and patterns in the core, the international research team found an evolution in the vibration sequence that would allow debris to flow.

"These findings help us understand how impact craters collapse and how large masses of rock behave in a fluid-like manner in other circumstances, such as landslides and earthquakes," Melosh said. "Towns have been wiped out by enormous landslides, where people thought they were safe but then discovered that will flow like liquid when some disturbance sets a big enough mass in motion."

The extinction of the dinosaurs itself was probably not directly affected by the 's internal collapse—other, external effects of the impact did them in, Melosh said. Regardless, it's important to understand the consequences of a large asteroid strike on Earth. Because cratering is the same on all the , these findings also validate the mechanics of impacts everywhere in the solar system.


Explore further

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More information: et al, Rock fluidization during peak-ring formation of large impact structures, Nature (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0607-z
Journal information: Nature

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Oct 25, 2018
Sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid the size of a small city smashed into the earth. This impact, the one that would lead to the end of the dinosaurs, left a scar several miles underground and more than 115 miles wide.

This is just one unconfirmed speculative story as to how the dinosaurs became extinct. It does not explain why it is that most world wide discoveries of dinosaur fossils are shown to occur mainly in sedimentary rock, not volcanic rock.
Just going by that fact, I would rather opt for the global flood described in the bible as being the cause of [MOST of] the Dinosaurs demise, only a few thousand years ago.
Some rather enterprising evolutionary researchers recently studied how crocs would become fossils underwater by various means. The one test of covering the bods with 20cm of sand that was the most successful raises the question: Just how did those HUGE dinos get covered by such a lot of sediment so quickly? Only one explanation works.

Oct 25, 2018
(continued)
The fossilization experiment yielded the confirmation that fossilization can only proceed if the bodies are covered up quickly. If not then dis-articulation and decay set in rapidly within a few days.

They even had to re-bury some crocs that escaped from under the sand because of bloating.

Hence MORE sand would serve better as fossilization trigger.

So after this confirmation they then started examining all kinds of floods around the world and came to the conclusion that there just isn't enough sediment being deposited in ALL of those investigations under currently occurring floods to bury organisms quickly enough AND deep enough to allow fossilization of huge creatures like dinos to proceed.

Oct 25, 2018
So after this confirmation they then started examining all kinds of floods around the world and came to the conclusion that there just isn't enough sediment being deposited in ALL of those investigations under currently occurring floods to bury organisms quickly enough AND deep enough to allow fossilization of huge creatures like dinos to proceed.


Bullsh!t, god-boy. Where is this study written up? On some dumb creationist website, perchance? Go away with your myth and superstition, you idiot.


Oct 25, 2018
freddy is such a disappointment to me. he/she/it posts such ridiculously laughable gibberish. That I cannot compete against such titansaurus level, fairytale stupidity with my charming satires!

In case fred doesn't comprehend? I am the one casting pearls before his swinish ignorance. Ain't there a parable or something about that?

Oct 25, 2018
Fred's ignorance is encyclopedic.

Oct 29, 2018
This is just one unconfirmed speculative story


Written as a (trolling) comment on an article that references the evidence.

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