A new discovery indicates that a small fragment of the asteroid that crashed to Earth 66 million years ago may have been found in the US. Researchers believe that the cataclysmic impact of the rock may have caused the death of the dinosaurs and changed the course of the history of the evolution of life on the planet.
The remains of the asteroid were identified at an archaeological site in the Hell Creek Formation, in the state of North Dakota, and have remained preserved. Many fossils unearthed at the site are of animals that died during the shock of the fall, such as fish that sucked up debris, a turtle impaled with a rock and a leg that may have belonged to a dinosaur.
According to information from CNN, the scientific novelty is presented in the documentary “Dinosaur Apocalypse”, shown on PBS, and presented by naturalist David Attenborough and paleontologist Robert DePalma.
DePalma, a researcher at the University of Manchester, UK, and an adjunct professor in the geosciences department at Florida Atlantic University, has worked for a long time at the archaeological site of Tanis, Egypt. Based on his knowledge of the ancient sand city and its geological conditions, he claims that the deserts of the United States became barren after the asteroid hit.
In the Cretaceous period, the American Midwest was swampy forest and had abundant water sources, which have since disappeared. This area ran all the way from what is now the Gulf of Mexico to Canada. With these findings, researchers may have rare evidence of what led to the end of the age of dinosaurs.
The site is also home to thousands of well-preserved fish fossils that, according to DePalma, may have been buried alive by sediment displaced when a massive body of water was triggered instantly after the massive asteroid fell into the sea.
“Evidence after evidence started to accumulate and change the story. It was a progression of clues, like a Sherlock Holmes investigation,” DePalma said. “This knowledge helps us understand how things developed after the impact, and it helps us get such rich resources for scientific investigation.”
Most of the glassy impact spherules that first revealed the fingerprints of the asteroid impact at DePalma are preserved as clay as a result of geological processes over millions of years. However, DePalma and his collaborators also found some spherules that landed in tree resin on the surface of a trunk and were preserved in amber.
“In this amber we located several spherules that were basically frozen in time, because just like an insect in amber that is perfectly preserved, when these spherules got into the amber, the water couldn’t get to them and they’re perfectly preserved,” he said.
In addition, the researcher drew attention to an exceptionally preserved dinosaur leg, with the skin intact, that was discovered at the Tanis site. The limb is thought to have belonged to a Thescelosaurus, a small herbivorous dinosaur that likely died on the same day the asteroid hit the planet. The preservation of soft tissue, such as skin, suggests that your body didn’t have time to decompose before being buried in sediment.
“The only two plausible scenarios here are that he died in the shock of the impact or that he died immediately, but so close to the moment of the cataclysmic event that he didn’t really have time to realize what was happening,” the expert explained.
The studies being carried out on the Tanis site and the North American regions that witnessed the falling asteroid fragments may provide information about this episode, what caused the mass extinction of dinosaurs and other prehistoric life forms and how this phenomenon unfolded later. For DePalma, this range of information can help us reflect on the current climate crisis.
“The fossil record gives us a window into the details of a hazard on a global scale and the reaction of Earth’s ecosystem to that threat,” he explained. “It brings us a look at the past and also allows us to apply this to today’s ecological and environmental crisis.”