Dr Gulick also noted that the study highlighted the dangers posed by asteroids over time, including the risks facing our planet-linked civilization. Chicxulub’s impact and the fate of the dinosaurs are frequently cited as the ultimate argument both for investing in planetary defense research and for expanding our species beyond Earth. (Although it’s interesting that other worlds, including Mars, are not free from large-scale asteroid impacts.)
But Chicxulub also sheds light on some of the most evocative questions about the emergence of life. Dr. Kring has long been fascinated by this subject and helped produce a wealth of research into the microbial ecosystems that arose in the fallout from the doomsday event.
“There is an argument which states that this type of bombardment is involved not only in the disruption of the evolution of life, but in fact involved in the origin of life on our planet,” he said. . “Understanding these processes is important, and our best measurements of some of these consequences on Earth will come from the youngest of these impactors, like Chicxulub, because the evidence is stronger. “
The mission Dr. Gulick helped lead continues to clarify the role of impact as a destroyer and melting pot of life. As researchers probed the depths of the buried Doomsday event, they found dusty traces of the impactor, a sandy backwash from the tsunami it created, and the fossilized remains of organisms that thrived as a result of its consequences.
Perhaps most surprisingly, a study published this summer described the modern microbial descendants of these early crater users, still living in the shadow of the disaster that was colonized by their ancestors.
“It’s amazing to me that you can make an impact and generate an ecosystem, and then 66 million years later you still have life present there because of that previous condition,” said Dr. Gulick. “On a larger scale, maybe you can generate habitats with impacts very early in Earth’s history and make ecosystems survive thereafter. It reflects one of the ways that you could move your life forward.
In that sense, the Chicxulub impactor does have galactic implications as a time capsule of both a biological disaster and the birth of new life. Other life-bearing worlds across the Milky Way could be similarly shaped by asteroid impacts, with stories of destruction and recovery all their own.
“It’s a problem that potentially goes far beyond the extinction of the dinosaurs,” said Dr Kring.