Everyone knows about the impact crater off the coast of Chicxulub, Mexico, thought to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. But a much larger extinction event, known as “The Great Dying,” wiped out 96% of all known life on our planet 250 million years ago. So far, there has been no compelling evidence of an impact that caused this – until now.
Studies of gravitational anomalies around the Falkland Islands have uncovered what appears to be a 200-kilometer-wide impact crater underwater. Michael Rampino of New York University first published his suspicions of what these anomalies represented in 1992, but his paper was soon forgotten due to the lack of additional evidence.
Maximiliano Rocca of Buenos Ares, Argentina, rekindled this investigation. An amateur scientist funded by The Planetary Society’s Planetary Defense grants, Rocca corroborated Rampino’s initial data with newer, more detailed gravitational data, seismic data, and magnetic data – all of which points to a large crater similar in structure to the one at Chicxulub. The suspected age of this anomaly matches up with The Great Dying – making it the simplest explanation for this mass extinction. The next step would be to drill a core sample to confirm the age of the crater.
Rocca’s findings will be published in the August issue of the peer-reviewed journal Terra Nova. And it’s a reminder that another extinction-level impact on Earth isn’t a question of if it will happen again, it’s a question of when. And we are still entirely unprepared for it as a species.
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