Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterThe Yucatan crater is also known as the Chicxulub Crater. It is an asteroid crater that is more than 180 kilometers in diameter and 10 km deep. The Chicxulub crater was formed 65 million years ago when a large celestial body – a comet or an asteroid – slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula with a force that makes a nuclear blast seem like a bottle rocket. More than 50% of the Earth’s species died as a result of the catastrophic climate changes, including the dinosaurs. Can you imagine what would happen if something like that happened today? I know that I don’t want to.
The Yucatan crater was discovered by Glen Penfield in the 1970′s as he was looking for oil in the area. Penfield was unable to initially obtain evidence that the unique geological feature was in fact a crater, and gave up his search. He eventually made contact with Alan Hildebrand. Penfield was then able to obtain samples that suggested it was an impact feature. The evidence included shocked quartz, tektites, and a gravitational anomaly in the area. The age of the rocks and isotope analysis show that the crater dates back to 65 million years ago. This feature also has a ring of cenotes (sinkholes) around on its rim.
The Yucatan crater was formed by an impactor that was roughly 10 km in diameter that hit with 100 million megatons of force. That is equivalent to all of the nuclear bombs in existence today. The impact would have blotted out the Sun for weeks. The shockwave would have caused tsunamis that were hundreds of meters high. The large plant eating dinosaurs would have died first, but the meat eaters would have gone shortly afterward. The acid rain and fires would have gone on for quite a while. The entire Earth would have been in a life and death struggle for years.
The significance of the Yucatan crater can not be ignored. It changed the face of evolution in one mighty stroke. Without it the dinosaurs may have lived a few more million years and who knows what species would have evolved to populate our planted today. Perhaps humans would not be the masters of this world.
Here are links to some NASA images and more information about the Yucatan crater. We have written quite a bit about craters and the Yucatan crater here on Universe Today. Check out this episode of Astronomy Cast to see why asteroids are bad neighbors.