Origin of the Armageddon causing comet | Summary and Q&A

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February 15, 2021
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Harvard University
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Origin of the Armageddon causing comet

TL;DR

A pair of Harvard researchers propose that the Chicxulub impactor, responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs, came from the Oort cloud and was a long-distance comet disrupted by Jupiter's gravitational fields.

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Key Insights

  • πŸ¦• The Chicxulub impactor was responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs through tsunamis, wildfires, and global cooling.
  • πŸ˜Άβ€πŸŒ«οΈ The impactor originated from the Oort cloud and was diverted towards Earth by Jupiter's gravitational forces.
  • πŸŒ₯️ The composition of the Chicxulub impactor and other similar impactors suggests a higher likelihood of long-period comets from the Oort cloud, rather than large asteroids.
  • πŸ‰ Monitoring the sky for potential asteroid threats is essential to mitigate short-term risks.
  • ❓ Understanding the origin and nature of impactors can provide insights into the frequency and magnitude of future impacts.
  • πŸ’† The Chicxulub impactor is estimated to have been 10 to 80 kilometers in diameter, with a mass of up to 100 trillion kilograms.
  • πŸ˜€ The impact of the Chicxulub impactor resulted in a crater spanning 93 miles wide and 12 miles deep off the coast of Mexico.

Transcript

(dramatic instrumental music) - [Narrator] The Chicxulub impactor was tens of miles wide and forever changed history when it crashed into earth about 66 million years ago. (dramatic instrumental music) The devastation brought the reign of the dinosaurs to an abrupt and calamitous end. Where did this Armageddon-causing object come from, and how did ... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How did the Chicxulub impactor cause the extinction of dinosaurs?

The Chicxulub impactor caused tsunamis, wildfires, and created a massive cloud of debris and aerosols, leading to global cooling and darkening of the skies. The resulting environmental changes disrupted the food chain, setting the stage for the extinction of dinosaurs.

Q: What is the proposed origin of the Chicxulub impactor?

Harvard researchers propose that the Chicxulub impactor originated from the Oort cloud, a region at the edge of the solar system. It was initially on a different course until Jupiter's gravitational fields deflected it towards Earth.

Q: Why is the composition of impactors significant?

The scientists suggest that carbonaceous chondrite is the likely composition of Chicxulub-sized impactors. This supports the theory that these impactors are more likely to originate from long-period comets in the Oort cloud, rather than large asteroids from the Main Belt.

Q: How frequently do these smaller comets impact Earth?

Based on the new rate of impact suggested by the researchers, these smaller comets would strike Earth approximately once every 250,000 to 730,000 years.

Summary

Researchers from Harvard believe they have discovered the origin of the Chicxulub impactor, the asteroid that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. They propose that a long-distance comet from the Oort cloud was deflected by Jupiter's gravitational fields, sending it on a trajectory that eventually brought it close to the sun. Tidal forces broke the comet apart, with one fragment colliding with Earth and creating the massive Chicxulub crater in Mexico. The researchers also suggest that these impactors are likely made of carbonaceous chondrite, a material commonly found in long-period comets from the Oort cloud.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the connection between the Chicxulub impactor and the extinction of the dinosaurs?

In the early 1980s, Luis Alvarez and his son Walter Alvarez discovered that the Chicxulub impactor and the global extinction event occurred around the same time, suggesting a causal connection between the two.

Q: How large was the Chicxulub impactor?

The Chicxulub impactor was estimated to be between 10 to 80 kilometers in diameter, similar in size to the city of Boston. It had a mass ranging from 1 trillion to 100 quadrillion kilograms.

Q: Where did the Chicxulub impactor come from?

According to the researchers, the Chicxulub impactor originated from the Oort cloud, a region at the edge of the solar system that contains long-period comets. It was deflected from its course by gravitational fields from Jupiter, causing it to collide with Earth.

Q: How did Jupiter's gravitational fields affect the Chicxulub impactor?

Jupiter's gravity acted as a sort of pinball machine, altering the trajectory of the incoming comet. It catapulted the comet into an orbit that brought it close to the sun, with the side of the comet nearer to the sun experiencing a stronger gravitational pull.

Q: What caused the fragmentation of the Chicxulub impactor?

The tidal forces generated by the gravitational pull of the sun broke apart the massive comet, resulting in the formation of smaller fragments. One of these fragments collided with Earth, creating the Chicxulub crater.

Q: What were the immediate effects of the Chicxulub impact?

The impact caused tsunamis, wildfires, and a massive cloud of debris and aerosols that darkened the skies and cooled the atmosphere.

Q: What type of space rock are the Chicxulub-sized impactors likely made of?

Based on their research, the scientists suggest that Chicxulub-sized impactors are more likely to be made of carbonaceous chondrite. This is in contrast to the popular theory that the impactor came from the Main Belt, which is typically composed of different materials.

Q: Why is the composition of the impactor significant?

The composition of the impactor provides clues to its origin. Only a small fraction of Main Belt asteroids are made of carbonaceous chondrite, while it is assumed that most long-period comets from the Oort cloud are composed of this material. The presence of carbonaceous chondrite in the Chicxulub impactor supports the hypothesis that it originated from the Oort cloud.

Q: Is the composition of the Chicxulub impactor common among long-period comets?

The researchers suggest that the composition of the Chicxulub impactor may be widespread among long-period comets based on observational data and planetary system formation theories. This is consistent with the fact that both the Chicxulub crater and other large confirmed craters on Earth share this composition.

Q: How often are Earth-like impacts expected?

According to the researchers' findings, smaller comets similar to the Chicxulub impactor could strike Earth approximately once every 250,000 to 730,000 years if produced in the same manner. This sheds light on the frequency of potentially devastating impacts and the importance of monitoring the sky for potential hazards.

Takeaways

The Harvard researchers' theory on the origin of the Chicxulub impactor provides a reasonable explanation for its formation and the extinction event it caused. By tracing its source back to the Oort cloud, they present a scenario in which long-period comets, deflected by Jupiter's gravity, can collide with Earth. The discovery that carbonaceous chondrite is likely the dominant composition of Chicxulub-sized impactors supports the idea that these impactors originate from the Oort cloud rather than the Main Belt. With the knowledge that such impacts could occur every few hundred thousand years, continued sky monitoring is crucial in order to identify and potentially mitigate future risks from asteroids and comets.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The Chicxulub impactor, estimated to be 10 to 80 kilometers in diameter, caused the extinction of dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

  • Harvard researchers suggest that the impactor originated from the Oort cloud and was diverted by Jupiter's gravitational forces.

  • Tidal forces from the sun broke the comet apart, sending fragments towards Earth, resulting in the catastrophic impact off the coast of Mexico.

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