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Chicxulub crater study reveals broken rocks can flow like liquid after a massive impact

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An artist’s rendering shows the Chicxulub asteroid crashing into the Yucatan Peninsula about 66 million years ago. New research suggests dinosaurs might have died out even if the asteroid missed Earth. Illustration: Donald E. Davis / NASA


A new study of an unusual ring of smashed rocks beneath the Yucatán Peninsula has brought fresh insight into the Chicxulub crater mystery.

The massive crater, north of the peninsula’s coast, left behind an impact that scientists believe killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

When the asteroid slammed into Earth, the impact was so hard it essentially turned solid ground to liquid.

After many years of debate, researchers have finally gotten to the bottom of how this feature formed, revealing how colossal vibrations from the event millions of years ago shook the rock until it flowed like a liquid.

In the new study led by a team at Purdue University in Indiana, researchers investigated a peak ring, along the Chicxulub crater, which sits several miles underground and stretches more than 115 miles wide.

This feature is the only such ring of its kind found on the planet, and formed inside the outer rim after the impact.

Chicxulub, however, sits several miles underground and stretches more than 115 miles wide, making it difficult to study firsthand.

To get a better look, the International Ocean Discovery Program drilled a six-inch core a mile down into Earth, bringing up ancient, partially melted rock from the dinosaur-killing impact.

An analysis of the sample revealed evidence of a process known as “acoustic fluidization,” in which the rock flows like liquid for several minutes after the impact.”

“For a while, the broken rock behaves as a fluid,” said Jay Melosh, a professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences at Purdue. “There have been a lot of theories proposed about what mechanism allows this fluidization to happen, and now we know it’s really strong vibrations shaking the rock constantly enough to allow it to flow.”

“These findings help us understand how impact craters collapse and how large masses of rock behave in a fluid-like manner in other circumstances, such as landslides and earthquakes,” Melosh added.

Source: Daily Mail

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