We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

Death By Cosmic Pinball

Astronomers triangulate the source of the dinosaur destroyer.

By Sarah Bates
Dec 3, 2007 6:00 AMNov 12, 2019 4:56 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

The dinosaurs’ fate may have been sealed by a piece of shrapnel from a cosmic collision that occurred long before the asteroid smashed into the Yucatán Peninsula 65 million years ago. Poring through a database of objects in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, scientists at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, found debris from an ancient collision. In a chaotic cluster of asteroid shards, scientists glimpsed a void—evidence that part of the cluster had moved toward the inner planets, possibly sending the killer asteroid to Earth.

Asteroids are a lot like pinballs in the machine that is the solar system, says William Bottke of the SwRI team. “You shoot a ball and it goes all over the place, but if you shot a million balls and tracked where they went to the bottom, eventually you’d come up with trends.

Bottke and his colleagues were able to find patterns in the floating rocks and pinpoint the speed, distance, and direction the asteroids traveled after the initial collision. The researchers think the collision took place about 160 million years ago, with the major impactor reaching Earth some 95 million years later, about the time the dinosaurs went extinct.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.