Chicxulub is a small town of just over 5000 people located in the Mexican state of Yucatán. The original name of the town, Chac Xulub Chen, means ‘the well of the great horns’ and for good reason; it is located near the exact centre of the originally named Chicxulub crater – the most famous crater on planet Earth.
In 1938 Petróleos Mexicanos, trademarked Pemex, was formed as a state-owned enterprise and acts as the largest tax contributor to the Mexican government to this day. However, forty years after Pemex’s creation the company were partially responsible for one of the biggest scientific discoveries ever.
The year was 1978 and Pemex were searching for potential oil to mine and sell in lucrative deals. Working with geophysicists Glen Penfield and Antonio Camargo, Pemex’s aim was to conduct vast oil exploration surveys across the Gulf of Mexico. Flying over the Gulf itself, the two men measured the magnetic fields of rock underneath the surface in order to map out the structure of what the naked eye couldn’t see. By mapping out the structure and composition of the rock and sediment it was easy to see what the percentages were of finding oil in certain areas.
When flying over Chicxulub, Penfield stared at his equipment ensuring it was all working correctly. The readings he saw didn’t make sense, according to his tools there was a huge arch shaped structure under the surface branching out for countless miles into the sea. It’s symmetry was perfect and its magnetic field clearly different from anything surrounding it. The two men carried on with their survey before landing and scratching their itch. They studied the structure in slightly more detail and realised, with its ring-like appearance and upward bulge at its centre, it resembled a huge impact crater.
The geophysicist pair found scientifically proving their findings difficult. The data which they had collected was confidential to Pemex and the warehouse in which their samples had been stored in unfortunately burnt down. But Penfield and Camargo had their readings and they knew of someone else in the company who could help them with their quest.
Robert Baltosser worked as a contractor at Pemex himself and had collected similar data to Penfield and Camargo. How the two parties came to interact is unknown but upon meeting the latter pair studied the maps created by Baltosser and realised there was another arch. The two archs joined and formed a 180km diameter circle across the Gulf of Mexico. So sure were the men that this was evidence of a cataclysmic event in the Earths history that they went against the wishes of Pemex and circa 1981 presented their data to anyone who would listen.
With no samples or physical objects they found it hard to win over doubters but subsequent research from the likes of Luis Alvarez and his son Walter Alvarez always came back to Chicxulub and a huge disaster event. The pair thought that the mass extinction event was caused by a sole impact but had not found the impact crater or location to back this up. Chicxulub was the golden nugget they had been looking for. The age of the rocks hit by said impact shows that the impact crater dates from around 66 million years ago which marked the end of the Cretaceous period and the start of the Paleogene period.
With more and more samples coming in for the theory, naysayers became supporters and it was soon no longer theory. It was fact. This was the impact crater of an asteroid so big and a 66 million-year-old event so disastrous it wiped out 75% of plant and animal species on the planet. All dinosaurs, not including birds, were extinct in a flash.
If you look at the picture above you are looking at the start of life as we know it and a change in the Planet that is hard to envisage. The effects of the crater are astounding, not surprising when confronted with the fact that the energy produced on impact is around the same level as 100 million megatons of TNT explosives. The cloud that formed after said impact was unimaginably huge, settling over the Earth and blocking a large portion of sun light thus significantly cooling the planet.
The impact is thought to have caused a mega tsunami, wildfires, acid rain, earthquakes, and volcanic activity. The huge dust cloud mentioned above was so gargantuan that some researchers believe the dust particles could have covered the earths surface for close to a decade. This would have created an undoubtedly harsh environment for things trying to survive on Earth and, with the suns rays blocked, plants were beginning to die through lack of photosynthesis.
The entire food chain collapsed, seventy five percent of the Earths living species were made extinct, the climate of the entire planet was significantly altered, natural disasters were common place, but the new influx of carbon dioxide would shape the way of life we know today. All from a 10-15km in diameter asteroid slamming deep into the Gulf of Mexico.
Chicxulub shaped us forever.
Further information and links
For more information check out the official Chicxulub website with some fantastic computer generated graphics and this video from National Geographic shedding more insight on the topic and showing just how large the impact crater really is.
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