Scientists to drill into asteroid impact that wiped out dinosaurs

They want to know how life recovered after the disastrous celestial collision.

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D. Van Ravenswaay via Getty Images
D. Van Ravenswaay via Getty Images

There's plenty of evidence to indicate that a gigantic asteroid likely wiped out the dinosaurs (and many other forms of life) when it smacked into what's now the Gulf of Mexico roughly 65.5 million years ago. However, what happened shortly afterward remains something of a mystery... or at least, it will until this spring. By April 1st, a scientific expedition will start drilling into the Gulf's Chicxulub impact crater to study how life recovered following the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period. The team will be looking for DNA samples, microfossils and rock type changes at different geologic layers to gauge both the effect of the impact and how lifeforms carried on in the hostile post-impact environment.

The jackpot may be found between 2,600ft to 5,000ft deep. There, the researchers hope to locate signs of the peak ring, or the inner lip of the crater. The data should not only verify existing impact models, but show whether or not the ring was a prime breeding ground for microbes that helped return life to the region. If so, it would suggest that the first organisms to come back thrived on the iron and sulfur deposited in the area, not the usual life-giving elements.

The drilling platform will carry on for two months, and it's a risky procedure -- there's no second chance if the operation goes awry partway down. Should it succeed, though, it'll help fill a gap in Earth's history and illustrate just how persistent life can be despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

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