Determining why the dinosaurs went extinct has been debated for ages and studied for even longer. Now, the most acceptable extinction event hypothesis — that of an astroid impact that changed the Earth’s climate — has a very interesting new wrinkle. As it turns out, it might not have been the size of the rock or the actual destruction it wrought that made the asteroid so utterly devastating, but simply the exact spot where it slammed into our planet.

Studying rock samples from up to 1,300 meters beneath the Gulf of Mexico, researchers were able to get a fantastic look at what the area was like at the time when the asteroid — estimated to be nearly 10 miles wide — struck. When the rock slammed into the Earth 66 million years ago, the area was little more than a shallow sea, and scientists now believe that the collision sent an enormous amount of sulphur skyward, which ultimately doomed the planet by sending it into an ice age which the lumbering prehistoric beasts simply couldn’t endure.

The researchers, who presented their findings in a new BBC documentary called The Day The Dinosaurs Died, suggest that if the killer asteroid had made a watery splashdown in the middle of the Atlantic or Pacific oceans, the deadly vaporized rock that blotted out the sun in the days after its impact would have been far less severe. If that had happened, plant life would still have gotten the sunlight it needed to survive, and the food chain might have remained intact. Of course, had that happened, the eventual rise of mammals may also never have occurred, and we might not even be here to study any of it at all.

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