Wednesday, September 5, 2007

New Research on Source of the Dinosaur-killing Asteroid

It is truly amazing sometimes what mankind is capable of figuring out. Scientists now have a working theory of the source of the dinosaur-killing asteroid:

"U.S. and Czech researchers used computer simulations to calculate that there was a 90 percent probability that the collision of two asteroids -- one about 105 miles wide and one about 40 miles wide -- was the event that precipitated the Earthly disaster.

The collision occurred in the asteroid belt, a collection of big and small rocks orbiting the sun about 100 million miles from Earth, the researchers report in this week's issue of the journal Nature.

The asteroid Baptistina and rubble associated with it are thought to be leftovers, the scientists said.

Some of the debris from the collision escaped the asteroid belt, tumbled toward the inner solar system and whacked Earth and our moon, along with probably Mars and Venus, said William Bottke of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, one of the researchers."

So in one sense we can think of the asteroid Baptistina as the birth of mankind. No impact, no explosion that changed the environment on earth and wiped out the dinosaurs, no rise of the mammals, no human beings. Talk about a close shave. I wonder how the intelligent design crew will interpret this. Will they say it was the hand of G.., er, the designer, that caused the collision in space 100 million miles from earth, and the subsequent one in Mexico?

"The dinosaur-destroying meteorite, thought to have measured 6 miles across, plunged into Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and blasted out the Chicxulub (pronounced CHIK-shu-loob) crater measuring about 110 miles wide. The researchers looked at evidence on the composition of this meteorite and found it consistent with the stony Baptistina."

This heavenly event was also apparently responsible for another astronomical feature we've all seen at one time or another:

"The researchers estimated that there also was about a 70 percent probability that the prominent Tycho crater on the Moon, formed 108 million years ago and measuring about 55 miles across, also was carved out by a remnant of the earlier asteroid collision."

Now obviously, with this being groundbreaking stuff, the theory is going to undergo frequent revision, as new data and superior data gathering techniques appear. But this is a question about an absolutely crucial moment in earth's history. It dwarfs the importance of the signing of the Declaration of Independence by orders of magnitude. The fact that we now have a real start on the answer is quite exciting.

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