The massive asteroid that is thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs was one of the most significant events in Earth’s history, and without it there’s a really good chance humans might never have existed at all. With that in mind, it’s hard to imagine how the space rock’s impact could have been even more devastating than scientists have assumed, but new research suggests exactly that, and paints an even more dire picture of what life was like on Earth in the years that followed.
Results of the study, which focused largely on the impact of the asteroid itself and the amount of various gasses that were ejected during the event, was published in Geophysical Research Letters.
To get an idea of just how dramatic the climate shift would have been in the days, months, and years following the impact, scientists have relied on computer models of the collision. The data comes from knowledge of the impact site, which is now the Chicxulub crater located near the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula in present day Mexico.
Previous computer models of the asteroid strike were not as refined as the new version, which takes into account the speed of the gasses that were released. The velocity at which the various material was sent skyward has a huge impact on whether or not it was able to enter the atmosphere and affect the climate on a longer scale. The antiquated models simply assumed all gas that was ejected made it into the atmosphere, which doesn’t appear to have been the case.
According to this newest round of data, the impact would have released significantly more sulfur gas than previously though, by a factor of three, which would have had a devastating effect on Earth’s temperatures. Previous estimates suggested the planet’s temperature plummeted by as much as 47 degrees Fahrenheit, which would have spelled doom for many, many species, but this new study hints that it might have been even colder than that.
It’s terrifying to consider what would happen to humanity if such an event were to take place today, and we’ve been incredibly fortunate to not have a repeat thus far, but we can never be certain what the future holds.