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Dinosaur footprints, molten amber: Fossils show day killer asteroid struck

AP, WASHINGTON

A model of a Tyrannosaurus rex is displayed at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Aug. 15, 2017.

Photo: AP

New research released on Friday captures a fossilized snapshot of the day nearly 66 million years ago when an asteroid smacked Earth, fire rained from the sky and the ground shook far worse than any modern earthquake.

It was the day that nearly all life on Earth went extinct, including the dinosaurs.

The researchers said they found evidence in North Dakota of the asteroid hit in Mexico, including fish with hot glass in their gills from flaming debris that showered back down on Earth.

They also reported the discovery of charred trees, evidence of an inland tsunami and melted amber.

Separately, University of Amsterdam’s Jan Smit said that he and his colleagues even found dinosaur footsteps from just before their demise.

Smit said the footprints — one from a plant-eating hadrosaur and the other of a meat-eater, maybe a small Tyrannosaurus rex — are “definite proof that the dinosaurs were alive and kicking at the time of impact... They were running around, chasing each other” when they were swamped.

“This is the death blow preserved at one particular site. This is just spectacular,” said Purdue University geophysicist and impact expert Jay Melosh, who was not part of the research, but edited the paper released on Friday by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Melosh called it the field’s “discovery of the century.”

However, other experts said that while some of the work is fascinating, they have some serious concerns about the research, including the lack of access to the specific Hell Creek Formation fossil site for outside scientists.

Hell Creek — which spans Montana, both Dakotas and Wyoming — is a fossil treasure trove that includes numerous types of dinosaurs, mammals, reptiles and fish trapped in clay and stone from 65 million to 70 million years ago.

Kirk Johnson, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History who also has studied the Hell Creek area for 38 years, said that the work on the fish, the glass and trees “demonstrates some of the details of what happened on the day. That’s all quite interesting and very valid stuff.”

However, Johnson said that because there is restricted access to the site, other scientists cannot confirm the research.

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