We had been searching for years for the fossils from the day a meteor caused the Great Extinction. we finally found them

  • 38

“The temporal resolution we can achieve on this site is beyond our wildest dreams… This really shouldn’t exist and is absolutely stunning in its beauty. I never dreamed in my entire career that I would see something a) so limited in time and b) so beautiful. And that also counts such a wonderful story“. Speech Philip Manningpaleontologist and professor at the University of Manchesterand what he says gives us as many clues as the tone in which he says it.

What Manning is talking about with undisguised emotion a Guardian It is what is perhaps one of the most surprising finds —and certainly unlikely— of recent times in the field of paleontology: vestiges that, according to the researchers who have dedicated themselves to analyzing them, are directly linked to the authentic ” D-day”, the day 66 million years ago in which a gigantic meteorite of about 12 kilometers in diameter collided with the Yucatan peninsula, in Mexico, and ended with 75% of the species of fauna and flora.

The remains, located in the Tanis site, in North Dakota (USA), make up a real treasure for connoisseurs. Researchers have located a surprisingly well-preserved leg of Thescelosaurus —in such good condition that even the skin is preserved—, fish, a fossilized turtle skewered on a stake, the remains of small mammals and their burrows, the skin of a triceratops, including horns, and the embryo of a flying pterosaur in its egg . The site is completed by what appear to be fragments of the meteorite impact itself.

A treasure 3,000 km from impact

We preserve so few dinosaur remains from the thousands of years before the collision that locating traces directly related to the cataclysm is —as Manning acknowledges— more than a “dream” for experts. “We have so many details that tell us what happened moment by moment; it’s almost like seeing it in the movies. You look at the column of rock, you look at the fossils and it takes you back to that day.” explains to BBC Robert DePalmastudent at the University of Manchester and who directs the excavations in Tanis, located about 3,000 km from the Yucatan peninsula.

If the finding is so incredible, why is it credible? What leads its discoverers to consider that the remains date from just from the “D-day” of the great cataclysman event recorded 66 million years ago and whose epicenter is as far from Tanis as Spain is more or less from Ankara?

One of the keys is the remains of fish, in whose gills experts have identified small particles, spheres of molten rock resulting from the collision and that were scattered around the globe. Despite the distance, chemical analysis and radiometric dating relate them to the epicenter of the cataclysm, in present-day Mexico. Researchers at the North Dakota site say the brutal collision 66 million years ago may have triggered tremors that, in turn, caused the river will overwhelm the surrounding ecosystems and wash away the sediments.

Scientists believe that during this process the fish breathed in the particles, which were trapped in their bodies… for 66 million years. “In its gills are spheres of superheated rock glass from the shock. They are chemically almost indistinguishable from glass created by the asteroid elsewhere. When it entered the fish, they were rapidly buried along with the surrounding area before it formed.” an iridium-rich coating on them,” notes the Natural History Museumwhich slides that the origin of these creatures is beyond doubt.

Several particles preserved in amber in the surroundings of the Tanis deposit itself point in a similar direction. After analyzing them, the experts consider that they are part of the fragments that were expanded by the impact of the meteorite. In at least several of these components, scientists have also identified small inclusions that imply an origin outside the Earth.

“When we noticed there were inclusions inside these little glass spheres, we chemically analyzed them at the Diamond X-ray Synchrotron —adds Manning—. We were able to separate the chemistry and identify the composition of that material. All the evidence, all the chemical data from that study suggests that we are looking at a part of the impactor; of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs”.

Thescelosaurus leg also tells his own story. In addition to being well preserved, the limb does not indicate that the dinosaur suffered from a disease nor does it reveal signs that it could have been torn off by a predator. Of course —as Manning emphasizes— it shows that for some reason the unfortunate Thescelosaurus lost it completely, quickly. “The best idea we have is that it is an animal that died more or less instantly,” comment.

The day after the Apocalypse: this was the first 24 hours after the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs

Not everyone is as optimistic as Professor Manning or DePalma in analyzing the Thescelosaurus leg. Other accredited experts are cautious, at least for now, and point out that the violence of the cataclysm simply was able to remove animal remains that they had died some time before or that the earthquakes and the deformation of the earth’s crust perhaps mixed the corpse of the dinosaur, already buried, with sediments that were deposited due to the collision.

“While it’s plausible that this Thescelosaurus was killed on the day of the collision, it’s also possible that it was exhumed by the asteroid impact and then mixed in with everything else afterwards,” comments Paul Barrettfrom the Natural History Museum in London: “But the fact that it is so well preserved suggests to me that even if the animal did not die as a result of the events that caused the deposit, must have died very close in time”.

The discovery is also marked in a certain way by how its authors have decided to present it to the public, who have broken in part with the usual protocol of the academic world and made the existence of Tanis known through the general press, not through specialized publications that control methods such as peer review are applied.

After decades of debate, science confirms it: we can now say that the dinosaurs disappeared due to a meteorite

Although some texts have already been published through the normal channels, the potential of Tanis slipped in 2019 from the pages of new yorker and now the extent of its treasures have been brought back to the fore by the making of a documentary that is about to present the BBC.

Cover Image | NASA/JPL-Caltech

“The temporal resolution we can achieve on this site is beyond our wildest dreams… This really shouldn’t exist and is…

“The temporal resolution we can achieve on this site is beyond our wildest dreams… This really shouldn’t exist and is…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.