Two hundred and fifty million years ago, ninety percent of marine species disappeared and life on land suffered greatly during the worlds largest mass extinction. The cause of this great dying has baffled scientists for decades, and recent speculations invoke asteroid impacts as a kill mechanism. Yet a new study published in the December issue of Geology provides strong indications that the extinction cause did not come from the heavens but from Earth itself.
An international team of scientists led by Christian Koeberl from the University of Vienna studied rock samples taken from deep in the Carnic Alps of southern Austria and the western Dolomites in northeast Italy. Their findings promise to fuel what is already one of the hottest debates in earth science. "Our geochemical analyses of these two famous end-Permian sections in Austria and Italy reveal no tangible evidence of extraterrestrial impact," said Koeberl. "This suggests the mass extinction must have been home-grown."
Layers of rocks contain a chemical testimony of environmental change though time. Asteroids and comets are chemically different from the Earth and when these objects arrive they leave a tell-tale chemical fingerprint in the rocks. With the help of colleagues from the USA and UK, Koeberl confirmed the presence of the element iridium in the samples. Iridium is abundant in asteroids, comets, and other extraterrestrial material.
Ann Cairns | EurekAlert!
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