Stony evidence of the hellfire that drove dinosaurs to extinction

Apr 04, 2019

WHEN, IN 1980, Luis Alvarez, a physicist, and his son Walter, a geologist, made public their theory that the dinosaurs were killed by a massive asteroid strike, it came as a curveball to palaeontologists, who believed dinosaurs had gradually died out through other means. The father-and-son team from the University of California, Berkeley, argued that evidence of the catastrophe was hiding in plain sight, the world over, as a thin layer of sediment enriched in iridium, a metal commonly found in asteroids but rare on Earth. They pointed out that no dinosaurs, with the exception of birds, were ever found beyond this critical layer and suggested a devastating impact was responsible.

The only piece of the puzzle that has been missing is evidence of what actually happened when the asteroid struck. Now, almost 40 years later, an American fossil bed is revealing details of the raging hellstorm that followed just minutes after the asteroid impact, and eventually drove the dinosaurs to extinction.

Under most circumstances, fossils form when animals die in places like river deltas where fine sediment slowly covers up their bones and ultimately encases them in rock. Not so at the aptly named Hell Creek formation of Tanis in North Dakota. Here, Robert DePalma, a PhD student at the University of Kansas, and a team of colleagues that...

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