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, 822, 353-80

The Cretaceous-Tertiary Impact Crater and the Cosmic Projectile That Produced It


The Cretaceous-Tertiary Impact Crater and the Cosmic Projectile That Produced It

V L Sharpton et al. Ann N Y Acad Sci.


Evidence gathered to date from topographic data, geophysical data, well logs, and drill-core samples indicates that the buried Chicxulub basin, the source crater for the approximately 65 Ma Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) boundary deposits, is approximately 300 km in diameter. A prominent topographic ridge and a ring of gravity anomalies mark the position of the basin rim at approximately 150 km from the center. Wells in this region recovered thick sequences of impact-generated breccias at 200-300 m below present sea level. Inside the rim, which has been severely modified by erosion following impact, the subsurface basin continues to deepen until near the center it is approximately 1 km deep. The best planetary analog for this crater appears to be the 270 km-diameter Mead basin on Venus. Seismic reflection data indicate that the central zone of downward displacement and excavation (the transient crater is approximately 130 km in diameter, consistent with previous studies of gravity anomaly data). Our analysis of projectile characteristics utilizes this information, coupled with conventional scaling relationships, and geochemical constraints on the mass of extraterrestrial material deposited within the K/T boundary layer. Results indicate that the Chicxulub crater would most likely be formed by a long-period comet composed primarily of nonsilicate materials (ice, hydrocarbons, etc.) and subordinate amounts (< or = 50%) primitive chondritic material. This collision would have released the energy equivalent to between 4 x 10(8) and 4 x 10(9) megatons of TNT. Studies of terrestrial impact rates suggest that such an event would have a mean production rate of approximately 1.25 x 10(-9) y-1. This rate is considerably lower than that of the major mass extinctions over the last 250 million years (approximately 5 x 10(-7) y-1). Consequently, while there is substantial circumstantial evidence establishing the cause-effect link between the Chicxulub basin forming event and the K/T biological extinctions, the results of our analysis do not support models of impact as a common or singular causative agent of mass extinctions on Earth.

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