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Planetary science: Determining the trajectory of the Chicxulub impact

Nature Communications

May 27, 2020

The Chicxulub crater in Mexico was formed by a steeply inclined (between 45 and 60 degrees to the horizontal) asteroid impact, reports a study in Nature Communications this week.

The asteroid impact that formed the Chicxulub crater (approximately 66 million years ago) had a catastrophic effect on the Earth’s environment, and is widely believed to be related to the mass extinction event that occurred around the same time. However, the impact trajectory is still debated.

Gareth Collins and colleagues used a model that simulated the formation of the Chicxulub crater to determine the direction the asteroid came from and the impact angle. They used 3D numerical simulations considering 4 different impact angles: 90, 60, 45 and 30 degrees. Based on this data and geophysical observations, the authors suggest that the crater was formed by a steeply inclined (45–60 degrees from the horizontal) impact from the north east. The authors argue that the impact angle produced a nearly symmetrical distribution of ejected material from the crater formed, and would have released more climate-changing gases per impactor mass than the other scenarios tested.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-15269-x

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