Evidence is mounting that 251 million years ago, long before the dinosaurs dominated the Earth, a meteor the size of Mount Everest smashed into what is now northern Australia, heaving rock halfway around the globe, triggering mass volcanic eruptions, and wiping out all but about ten percent of the species on the planet. The "Great Dying," as its called, was by far the most cataclysmic extinction event in Earths history, yet scientists have been unable to finger a culprit as they have with the dinosaur extinction. A new paper published in Science, however, claims to identify the crater made by that meteor, and it builds upon an ongoing body of evidence by researchers at the University of Rochester and the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), that points the finger for the Great Dying squarely at the heavens.
"This is very likely the impact site weve been looking for," says Robert Poreda, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester. "For years weve been observing evidence that a meteor or comet hit the southern hemisphere 251 million years ago, and this structure matches everything weve been expecting."
In 2001, Poreda and Luann Becker, research scientist in geological sciences at UCSB, announced that they had detected in 251-million-year-old strata, specific isotopes of helium and argon trapped inside buckyballs--a cage-like formation of carbon atoms--that could only have come from space. Since they were laid down in this same strata around much of the globe, the implication was that a giant meteor had struck the Earth, vaporized, and settled around the southern hemisphere. This past November, the same three authors--Poreda, Becker, and Asish Basu, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester--published another article in Science that found actual pieces of the meteorite that struck the Earth in the same global strata.
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