Avi Loeb’s new theory about how dinosaurs became extinct

Avi Loeb’s new theory about how dinosaurs became extinct

Model of a Spinosaurus

HARVARD astrophysicist Avi Loeb has proposed a new theory about how dinosaurs were wiped off the face of the Earth 66 million years ago.

The coast of Yucatan, in Mexico, bears the trace of one of the most important moments in the history of the Earth. The 149-kilometre-long and 19-metre-deep Chicxulub Crater is where a huge rock from space crashed, causing an explosion equivalent to that of 10 billion atomic bombs like Hiroshima and filling the atmosphere with sulphur which blocked out the sunlight, caused gigantic forest fires and a huge tsunami, changing the climate for years and destroying three quarters of the plant and animal species of the time. But what it is best known for is killing dinosaurs.

The type of rock and where it came from is something which has been debated for years, and Loeb believes that it was part of a deviated comet which hit the Earth at the deadliest angle possible.

To be more specific, as he explains with student Amir Siraj in the journal Scientific Reports, they believe it to be a piece of a comet which came from the Oort cloud , an icy sphere of debris on the edge of the solar system.

Until now, it was thought it was an asteroid from the belt between Mars and Jupiter, but Loeb and Siraj believe that Jupiter’s gravitational field only acted as a deflector for the huge rock during its orbit, but that it came from another point.

In fact, they envision it like a huge pinball machine, in which Jupiter “the most massive planet, propels long-period incoming comets into orbits that bring them very close to the sun” Siraj explains. Comets, dubbed “solar scrapers,” can experience powerful tidal forces that smash rock into pieces and ultimately produce pieces of comet in the form of shrapnel.

“On the return trip to the Oort cloud, there is a greater chance that one of these fragments will hit Earth” he says.

They believe that their calculations would coincide with the era of the Chicxulub crater, and evidence found there suggests that the rock was composed of carbonaceous chondrite , which is rare among main belt asteroids but possibly very common among long-period comets, providing additional support for their hypothesis.

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Jennifer Leighfield

Jennifer Leighfield, born in Salisbury, UK; resident in Malaga, Spain since 1989. Degree in Translation and Interpreting in Spanish, French and English from Malaga University (2005), specialising in Crime, Forensic Medicine and Genetics. Published translations include three books by Richard Handscombe. Worked with Euro Weekly News since November 2006. Well-travelled throughout Spain and the rest of the world, fan of Harry Potter and most things ‘geek’.