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Asteroid Induced Gas Killed Off Dinosaurs?

May 21, 2009

Were dinosaurs done in by gas?

Carbon monoxide could have caused a large spike in global temperatures

Image: Walking with Dinosaurs exhibit

An asteroid slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago, but scientists doubt the impact was enough to wipe out the dinosaurs. New experiments, however, show that the asteroid impact produced a huge amount of carbon dioxide, which could have spiked global temperatures.

When a giant asteroid slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago, the results were devastating: rock and ocean water vaporized, searing debris flung into outer space, and a smoldering hole in the Earth almost 75 miles wide.

Scientists debate whether the cataclysm was enough to wipe out the dinosaurs. But a new set of experiments shows the impact produced a huge amount of carbon monoxide, a compound commonly found in car exhaust. The sudden pulse of gas may have been enough to cause a large spike in global temperatures, and trigger a mass extinction.

Yasuhito Sekine of the University of Tokyo and a team of researchers simulated the impact in miniature by firing small pieces of metal into chunks of calcite, a carbon-rich mineral common in the shallow seas of the Cretaceous period. The collisions vaporized their targets, and produced about twice as much carbon monoxide (CO) as carbon dioxide (CO2).

The team’s research was published this month in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

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