A monstrously sized crater in Mexico marks, scientists assume, the point at which the dinosaur world came to an end, as well as about three-quarters of life on Earth.
Among the countless mysteries surrounding the Chicxulub crater event, the origin of the asteroid, whose impact with the surface of our planet would have started the catastrophe in question, has intrigued scientists for a long time. However, two Harvard researchers argue that they have come up with a promising answer to that question, published in Scientific Reports.
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Avi Loeb and Amir Siraj, using statistical analyzes and simulations, found that a significant fraction of an Oort cloud comet, a large concentration of objects believed to exist at the edge of the Solar System, may have been diverted from its course by the field. Jupiter’s gravitational pull and directed towards the Sun. The confusion, in turn, would have fragmented the rock. In fact, bits and pieces of the kind hit us (at intervals that can go from 250 million years to 730 million or more).
“Jupiter basically acts as a kind of pinball machine, ‘kicking’ these celestial bodies,” exemplified Siraj. “In the case of grazing comets, few melt in relation to their total mass, but the strong gravitational attraction exerted by the star causes the so-called tidal interruption, in which objects divide into smaller parts, separated between the region closest to the star and the other, more distant”, he added.
Also according to Siraj’s explanation, as the most distant portions move away from the Sun, there is a statistical chance that these smaller comets collide with the Earth – and this could have been more than 60 million years ago, when we said goodbye. to the “lizards” without even having known them.
About 20% of the comets from the aforementioned region become skimming, that is, they pass very close to the Sun, making them candidates for collision generators. So, those responsible for the study made some adjustments in calculations, increasing the chances of impact to 1 in 10, trying to understand what are the possibilities that this would bring.
Although the technique seems like a ploy to guide you by the intended results, such information is in agreement with surveys by other astronomers. Furthermore, according to both, the new rate is consistent with the age of the visitor to Chicxulub, which would provide a satisfactory explanation for the enigma and also for the composition of many of these space outsiders – which would be primitive, contrary to what was expected of Conventional asteroids, from the main belt, between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars.
Knowing the age of specimens helps determine their origin because evidence found in the Chicxulub crater and similar ones suggests that only about a tenth of all asteroids in the main belt are formed by carbonaceous chondrite, unlike those in the Oort cloud, with a much more expressive population of the type.
An object that hit the Earth about 2 billion ago and left the Vredefort crater in South Africa, which is the largest confirmed crater in Earth’s history, contained the suggested properties, as well as the one that left its mark on Zhamanshin, Kazakhstan (larger crater confirmed in the last million years).
“Our article provides a basis for explaining the occurrence of the event,” pointed out Loeb. “We’re suggesting that, in fact, if you break an object as it approaches the Sun, it can generate the appropriate consequence rate and detail the type of impact that killed the dinosaurs,” he said.
It is possible to confirm what scientists say with an in-depth analysis of several craters, including those on the lunar surface. Therefore, ongoing sampling missions, point out Loeb and Siraj, are capable of reshaping what is known.
“We should see smaller fragments reaching Earth more often from the Oort cloud,” Loeb pointed out. “I hope we can test the theory by having more data on long-period comets, get better statistics and maybe find evidence for some fragments,” he said.
Allies here on Earth can also be of great help, such as the Vera Rubin Observatory in Chile after it became operational in 2022. An example of its capabilities will be the observation of tidal disruption.
According to Loeb, understanding this is not only crucial to solving a mystery in Earth’s history, but to future threats. “It must have been an incredible sight, but we don’t want to witness this side”, concluded the researcher.
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