Scientists from the Harvard Center for Astrophysics have established the “homeland” of the cosmic body that fell to Earth and caused a global cataclysm that forced dinosaurs into extinction.
The most popular hypothesis for the event is associated with a space object that hit the ground in the Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico) and left the vast Chicxulub crater. Until now, it was believed that this object was an asteroid. Avi Loeb, whose study we are discussing now, however, stated that it was not an asteroid, as is commonly believed, but a comet.
The extinction of dinosaurs was caused by a comet
As previous studies have shown, long-period comets originate from the Oort cloud – an ice “belt” at the edge of the Solar System. Using statistical analysis and gravity modeling, the authors found that a significant proportion of these comets could be knocked off course by Jupiter’s powerful gravity.
The most massive planet in the system changes the trajectory of comets, which puts them closer to the Sun and forces them to collapse. The front of a comet flying towards a star experiences a stronger gravitational effect than the back. Tidal destruction occurs, capable of breaking a cosmic body into many small fragments.
As Loeb and his associates calculated, the closer such a long-period comet flies to the Sun, the more chances it has to be split into pieces – this time due to the attraction of our star. And the more fragments there are, the higher the probability that at least one of them will collide with planets, including the Earth.
Calculations have shown that about 20% of long-period comets are approaching the Sun, and the probability of debris falling to the Earth is about ten times higher than previously thought. The speed of the object, which collapsed near the Sun and flew towards Earth, roughly corresponds to the estimated speed of the body that made the Chicxulub crater.
Astronomers suggest that comet debris could not only cause the extinction of dinosaurs but also give rise to many other large craters on Earth, including the 300-kilometer Vredefort in South Africa, which arose as a result of the fall of an asteroid more than 2 billion years ago. This is supported by the fact that in such craters geologists find traces of chondrites and other celestial bodies from the outskirts of the solar system.
The new theory also explains the unusual composition of this body – carbonaceous chondrite. This is an extremely rare option for asteroids in the solar system, but typical for comets from the Oort cloud.
Avi Loeb’s work
How can we discuss a scientific discovery by Avi Loeb without mentioning his other significant achievements and projects? If you follow the latest scientific news, you have probably heard his name more than once or twice and it was likely connected to a different line of work than the extinction of dinosaurs.
Do you remember Oumuamua, the first interstellar object that cruised through the Solar System a few years ago?
Loeb is easily the most dedicated supporter of the theory that Oumuamua was, in fact, either extraterrestrial technology or debris left by aliens. For years, he has been battling the scientific community, and in his latest book, “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth”, he explains his theories in detail.
For now, proving the origin of Oumuamua is impossible and Loeb undoubtedly knows it too. The important factor here is not whether he is correct or not, but his impact on the scientific community. In recent interviews, he discussed how close-minded scientists have become and how afraid they are to go outside the box.
What he means is that even if the evidence was undeniable, many would still turn their eyes away only because it meant taking a risk. This is where I find the true meaning of Loeb’s work. His influence could force a positive change in a scientific community that is often unprepared to accept the inconvenient and risky truth. And it should because neglecting even the most unlikely possibility affects our progress.
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• Ferreira, B. (2021, February 15). Where did the dinosaur-killing impactor come from?
• HarvardResearch. (n.d.). The comet that killed the dinosaurs.
• Schwartz, M. (2021, February 16). New theory suggests dinosaur-killing impact came from edge of solar system.
• Siraj, A., & Loeb, A. (2021, February 15). Breakup of a long-period comet as the origin of the dinosaur extinction.
• Tim Baker, N. (2021, February 15). Scientists believe they have discovered where asteroid which wiped out dinosaurs came from.