A child touches the teeth of a model of a dinosaur at the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien (Museum of Natural History) in Vienna April 3, 2012. (Photo : Reuters)
It's one of the most enduring questions in science: What killed off the dinosaurs? Many scientists have long heralded climate change and/or a cosmic collision with an asteroid or comet as the likeliest of culprits for the extinction event, and according to a new study, the answer to the question may indeed be: a little of both.
According to the new study, the dinosaurs may in fact have been wiped out in part because of a catastrophic meteor impact off the coast of what is now Mexico, and also disappeared earlier than previously believed, the Daily Mail reported.
The new findings suggest that dinosaurs died out "within a gnat's eyebrow" of the meteor impact, about 66 million years ago. Past studies had theorized that cosmic impact occurred as much as 300,000 years before the extinction of the dinosaurs.
"The impact was clearly the final straw that pushed Earth past the tipping point," Paul Renne, a geochronologist and director of the Berkeley Geochronology Center in California said. "We have shown that these events are synchronous to within a gnat's eyebrow, and therefore, the impact clearly played a major role in extinctions, but it probably wasn't just the impact."
The impact point most researchers point to is a 110-mile crater off the coast of Mexico in the Caribbean where either a six-mile-wide comet or asteroid slammed into the ocean, an idea first proposed by father and son team, physicist Luis Alvarez and geologist Walter Alvarez, according to LiveScience.com. The collision of the cosmic object with the Earth would have potentially "released as much energy as 100 trillion tons of TNT, more than a billion times more than the atom bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki," LiveScience.com reported.
"We've shown the impact and the mass extinction coincided as much as one can possibly demonstrate with existing dating techniques," Renne, said to LiveScience.
"It's gratifying to see these results, for those of us who've been arguing a long time that there was an impact at the time of this mass extinction," Walter Alvarez explained to LiveScience. "This research is just a tour de force, a demonstration of really skillful geochronology to resolve time that well."
Scientists assert that their new estimate for the dinsoaurs' extinction is precise within 11,000 years, according to LiveScience.
While the results of the study strongly support the theory that a collision of a meteor or comet with the Earth caused the disappearance of the dinosaurs, Rene still cautioned that many other factors, including intense climate change, may have also played a part in the event.