Rock samples taken under the Chicxulub Crater left behind 66 million years ago by the asteroid that killed dinosaurs could hold the key to the origin of life on Earth.
A team of researchers found that the impact of the city-sized space rock produced a network of hot waterways beneath the crater, on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico.
This hydrothermal network provides the perfect conditions for microorganisms to thrive, suggesting that a similar asteroid impact could kickstart life on our planet billions of years earlier.
This process may even be key to finding life on Mars or rocky exoplanets outside our solar system, according to lead author Dr. David Kring.
The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck near what is now Mexico 66 million years ago and was the size of a city – it killed 75 percent of all plant and animal life
Hydrothermal minerals (analcime and dachiardite) in a small cavity within the rocks that fill the Chicxulub crater. Authors say this is a sign of the heated waterways
The hydrothermal network under the Chicxulub crater lasted more than a million years and stimulated the production of chemicals and proteins that make up living cells, the researchers said.
The study was conducted by an international team from the Universities Space Research Association, Imperial College London and the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
It supports a theory that our once bare planet was littered with life from meteorites crashing and leaching essential elements into hot springs.
Basic building blocks in the nutrient-rich broth, bound to self-replicating pieces of DNA called RNA molecules, change into the genetic code for life.
Research authors say the same findings would hold true for any rocky world in the habitable zone – and even some on the periphery, such as Mars.
This discovery could help NASA and other space agencies plan future missions to the Red Planet and give them a good idea of where to look for signs of life.
Dr. Kring, an award-winning NASA scientist, said the hydrothermal system was nine times the size of Yellowstone National Park’s system.
His team recovered sediment samples during an expedition to the site near the port of Chicxulub in the Gulf of Mexico.
Dr. Kring said the disaster “hydrothermally changed” the rocks below the crater.
Close-up of hydrothermal minerals (silica and feldspar) in impact melt rock. Rock samples taken under the Chicxulub crater left by the dinosaur that killed an asteroid 66 million years ago could explain the origin of life on Earth
“It shows that impact craters are a fundamentally important heat engine in emerging planetary systems,” the scientists said.
The geologically young Chicxulub crater is a suitable analog for terrestrial impact basins created nearly four billion years ago.
“Impact-induced hydrothermal systems were prominent features on early Earth and wherever water is present in a planetary crust.”
Today, Yellowstone in the U.S. has the largest and most diverse collection of hydrothermal features on Earth, including geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles – bubbling, bubbling, hissing, and spouting throughout the area.
This same activity as seen in Yellowstone is said to have occurred on a much wider scale in the wake of the extinction event.
Hydrothermal minerals (silica and feldspar) in the cavity in the core of the impact melt. A team from the Universities Space Research Association, Imperial College London and the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow participated in the study
Portion of expedition 364 rock core that led to the discovery of the hydrothermal networks. These hydrothermal networks – or hot waterways – would have created the perfect conditions for microorganisms to thrive about four billion years ago
“This hydrothermal system has been around for more than 100,000 years and has permanently changed the chemical and mineralogical composition of much of the Earth’s crust,” said Kring.
An earlier expedition to the uncovered hydrothermal crater is 30 meters thick.
The latest study published in Science Advances suggests that hot liquid circulates at least 2,300 feet below the surface of the crater site.
This supports the hypothesis that large meteor impacts earlier in Earth’s history produced hydrothermal clays that catalyzed RNA synthesis – triggering the origin of life on Earth.
Mineral evidence shows that the hydrothermal system was initially up to 752 ° F – cooling down below 194 ° F in about two million years.
The asteroid was larger than Mount Everest, killing 90 percent of the plants and 70 percent of the animals, including the dinosaurs.
Dr. Kring and colleagues also observed a network of porous, permeable niches that could provide habitats for microorganisms in the crater.
Comparable environments created by much older influences could have provided ideal conditions for the origin and evolution of life.
Chicxulub is the largest surviving intact impact basin on Earth. The restored core shows that it had a spatially expanded hydrothermal system, “said Kring.
The study is published in the journal Scientific progress.
KILLING THE DINOSAURS: HOW A CITY SIZE ASTEROID KNOWS 75 percent OF ALL ANIMAL AND PLANT SPECIES
About 65 million years ago, non-avian dinosaurs were wiped out and more than half of the world’s species were destroyed.
This massive extinction paved the way for the emergence of mammals and the emergence of humans.
The Chicxulub asteroid is often cited as a possible cause of the Cretaceous Paleogene extinction.
The asteroid struck a shallow sea in what is now the Gulf of Mexico.
The collision caused a huge dust and soot cloud causing global climate change, destroying 75 percent of all animal and plant species.
Researchers claim that the soot needed for such a global catastrophe can only be caused by a direct impact on shallow water rocks around Mexico, which are particularly rich in hydrocarbons.
An enormous tsunami swept through the Gulf Coast within 10 hours of impact, experts think.
About 65 million years ago, non-avian dinosaurs were wiped out and more than half of the world’s species were destroyed. The Chicxulub asteroid is often cited as a possible cause of the Cretaceous Paleogene extinction (stock image)
This caused earthquakes and landslides in areas up to Argentina.
But while the waves and eruptions were, the creatures living then were not just bothered by the waves – the heat was much worse.
During the investigation of the event, researchers found tiny particles of rock and other debris shot into the air when the asteroid crashed.
These tiny particles, called spheres, covered the planet with a thick layer of soot.
Experts explain that the loss of the sun’s light caused a complete collapse of the water system.
This is because the phytoplankton base of almost all aquatic food chains is said to have been eliminated.
It is believed that the more than 180 million years of evolution that brought the world to the Cretaceous was destroyed in less than the life of a Tyrannosaurus rex, which lasts about 20 to 30 years.