Earth is a curious planet. It is intriguing that we know so much about it, we know very little of its past. One of the most critical events in the history of the planet (and in humans’ history) is the impact of the asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs. We’ve seen many speculations regarding that subject over the past few years, but few of them were backed up by reliable data. As technology advances rapidly with each day, we may be getting closer and closer to finding out what happened so many years ago. A recent study sheds new light on that subject. This is the hypothesis that stays at the base of that study:
The kind of space body that ended dinosaurs may be more common than scientists believed in the past.
One of Harvard’s most controversial astronomers formed a new theory regarding the space rock that wiped out the dinosaurs. According to him, there is reason to think that it originated from farther afield than previously believed.
Avi Loeb made the headlines for quite a few years now by arguing that the first-ever interstellar object (known as Oumuamua) maybe a wayward piece of alien tech from far beyond the reach of our solar system. However, his new paper has nothing to do with that subject.
Loeb and Harvard University astrophysics undergraduate student Amir Siraj revealed in a new study posted Monday in Scientific Reports that the Chicxulub Impactor, which killed dinosaurs, originated from the edge of the solar system we belong to.
A popular hypothesis regarding the dinosaurs’ death likely started from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Still, Siraj and Loeb used statistical analysis and gravitational simulations to determine that more Earth impactors actually originated from the far-off Oort cloud, the source of most long-period comets.
The pair’s analysis hint that some such comets can get knocked off track on their way toward the inner area of the solar system, with potentially catastrophic outcomes.
“The solar system acts as a kind of pinball machine […] Jupiter, the most massive planet, kicks incoming long-period comets into orbits that bring them very close to the sun,” said Siraj.
The sun’s gravity is capable of tearing apart the so-called sungrazer comets.
“And crucially, on the journey back to the Oort cloud, there’s an enhanced probability that one of these fragments hit the Earth,” Siraj added.
The study says that the chances of such an impact are considerably higher than previously thought and that the new rate of impact is on par with the age of the Chicxulub impact that took place in the Gulf of Mexico. A fragment of the Oort cloud’s comet is also similar to the impactor’s peculiar make up more than a nearby asteroid.
Even more important than figuring out the mystery of what ended the dinosaur reign, Loeb says it is a more advanced understanding of natural traffic from deep space, which may also be necessary if a potential impactor would affect our planet in the future.
“It must have been an amazing sight […], but we don’t want to see that again,” he added.
We’ve seen numerous computer simulations of the collision that killed the dinosaurs, but we can only wonder how it truly happened. Sure, simulations can be very accurate, but they are never 100% realistic.