Dinosaurs and Murphy’s law: the asteroid hit the Earth from the worst possible angle

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Do you know Murphy’s law? If something can go wrong, do it. With the asteoid hitting Earth 66 million years ago, it went like this. Indeed, there was a squared Murphy’s law because there were two worst variables that could have happened and that occurred simultaneously. One had been discovered a few years ago (the type of rocks affected), the second on the impact angle was verified during a simulation of Imperial College London and published in Nature Communications.

The worst corner

The team led by Professor Gareth Collins simulated the impact angle of an asteroid 17 kilometers in diameter, with a density of 2,630 kilograms per cubic meter (comparable to that of a limestone rock), which travels at a speed of 12 kilometers per second. Based on data collected in the field, such as the 200 km diameter of the crater produced, its asymmetry and the initial depth of 30 km of the crater itself (which is now partially located off Chicxulub on the Yucatan coast, Mexico) it was concluded that the impact angle must have been about 60 degrees. Which equals the worst possible angle, that is, the one capable of causing the greatest damage. Based on the structure of the impact crater, you can also go back to the trajectory of the asteroid, which came from the north-east.

The impact

According to the most accurate dating (Science, February 21, 2019) the impact occurred 66,052,000 years ago, with an error margin of 8 thousand years more or less. Not all scientists agree on attributing mass extinction to the asteroid alone. Some believe that the impact was only the final blow, certainly the strongest, of an environmental crisis that began hundreds of thousands of years earlier with huge volcanic eruptions in India (Deccan traps).

Murphy’s law squared

The second episode of Murphy’s law concerns the type of rocks hit by the asteroid. The huge meteorite fell into a sea with seabed composed of gypsum-rich sediments, the worst possible variant of all the rocks that could be hit. At the time of the impact these rocks covered only 13% of the planet’s surface. 325 billion tons of sulphates and 425 billion tons of carbon dioxide were released which caused acid rain. The result was that the temperature after the impact dropped 26 degrees on the emerged lands and 11 degrees in the seas at a depth of 50 meters. In the tropics, averages drop from 27 to 5 degrees over a three-year period. The climate took 30 years to recover. The dust raised by the impact (15 billion tons) and the ashes caused by the fires (which destroyed the ozone layer) could have caused two years of darkness. Dinosaurs and other organisms that became extinct were particularly unfortunate. And maybe they didn’t know Murphy’s law.

May 27, 2020 (change May 27, 2020 | 7:08 pm)

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