The Day the Earth Died and Was Created Anew

Spoiler alert; This is not a variation of the Genesis account, or is it?

The April 8th issue of The New Yorker features an incredible feature story of a huge meteor collision with the Earth. It was only yesterday, in terms of galactic terms, only sixty-six million years ago, and you would not have wanted to be standing in the area of the present Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico at the time. In fact, there were no humans at the time as modern humans with language capacity go back only something like 50,000 years. The story, a full fourteen pages with pictures ... one of those feature articles in the magazine that you start and then just can't stop reading because it's sooo good ... is fantastically interesting.

The Earth actually gets hit by objects from outer space all the time. Most are small and burn up as "shooting stars" in the night sky. But one rather large one hit in the last several months, a rugged mass nearly thirty feet across. It fell into one of the oceans and so didn't affect much of anything, but was detected by the US network of satellites that are sensors for nuclear explosions worldwide. You might want to yawn about this, but think about the one that preceded this ocean impact; that was nearly 40 KM (twenty-five miles) from the Russian city of Chelyabinsk. That meteor was nearly 66 feet in diameter and entered the Earth's atmosphere at about 41,000 MPH! That speed is such that the meteor became very, very hot in the friction of our planet's atmosphere and exploded in an air burst around 100,000 feet above the ground. Many surviving fragments made it all the way down to the surface, along with a helluva shock wave and visible light burst that was much brighter than the sun. The Kinetic energy was equal to thirty times as much energy that was released by the Hiroshima A-bomb. Fortunately, most of this energy was absorbed by the atmosphere, but enough made it down to Earth and to Chelyabinsk, twenty-five miles away, that 1,500 people were injured, thousands of windows were blown out, and a number of  buildings were  damaged. One surprising thing is that this meteor was not detected until it exploded! Apparently there are thousands of these "small" objects on random trajectories in the solar system and nearly all are unknown at this time.

But back to the theme of the day. The "Yucatan asteroid" is estimated to have been six miles wide and was traveling at around 45,000 MPH. It struck a shallow (at the time) sea. Within two minutes of impact, a crater 18 miles deep was formed, and the previous mass of 25 million tons of debris was ejected into the atmosphere,  reaching halfway to the Moon before collapsing into a plume of hot dust and matter. The Earth kept rotating and so this "rooster tail"of stuff spread out. It was hotter than the sun's surface and set fire to anything and everything as it descended and blanketed most of what is now North America, Europe  and India. Some of this material escaped the gravitational pull of the Earth altogether and has been detected on other planets and moons in the solar system, including much of the surface of Mars.

Wow! However the damage had only begun, and the dust and soot from impact and the vast fires prevented all sunlight from reaching the Earth's surface for months. Photosynthesis all but stopped, killing most of the plant life, extinguishing phytoplankton from the oceans, and causing the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere to plummet. After all this, the planet plunged into a period of cold, perhaps a deep freeze. With the two primary food chains: on land, and in the seas, collapsing, it's estimated that 99.99999% of all living organisms on Earth died. Earth was toxic. This layer of deposits can be found today preserved in the Earth's sediment as a stripe of black about the thickness of a notebook. It's a boundary and dividing line between the Cretaceous Period and the Tertiary Period.

The dinosaurs were the biggest and baddest critters around just before the "Big Bang" as described above. They, and about everything else bit the proverbial dust. Current paleontology research is continuing and is centered in an area of North Dakota called the Hell Creek formation, where the boundary line of sediment from the asteroid impact is clear and fossils are well preserved. Fundamentally, this is a snapshot of the day before and the days after the impact! Skipping over some details, it's now believed that this site preserves the hour before and the hour after the impact! It's almost like looking at a super-condensed geological version of the preserved remains after Mount Vesuvius erupted and destroyed Pompeii.

Sixty-six million years ago, life on Earth virtually came to a shattering end, as described in this article. The world of living things  that emerged after the impact was a much different and much simpler place. When sunlight once again broke through the dust and haze, the landscape was hellish, burnt-out forests, drifting ash, extreme cold transitioning to extreme heat as the greenhouse effect took effect. Life started as mats of algae and fungus, then ferns for a long time. Some small mammals developed and lived in the gloom. Eventually life re-emerged with new forms. Without dinosaurs, we are told that other mammals developed rapidly and developed into a "dazzling array"of forms. This, according to theory, is the new form of Adam and Eve. Six days ... sixty-six million years. Take it or leave it.

Enjoy life, it's the only one we will get.

Jim George

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3 Responses

  1. Thank you for this fascinating and thought-provoking blog! I definitely plan to seek out Douglas Preston's article in The New Yorker. It's hardly possible to conceptualize such random and complete destruction. The details you shared from the article enliven an event known to me previously in merely abstract terms. Existence in all its forms fascinates endlessly, although life itself is infinitesimally fragile and brief. The Earth is 4.543 billion years young, while anatomically modern humans have strolled upon it for approximately 200,000 years of age. Human civilization's oldest city, Jericho, dates to 9,000 BCE, about 11,000 years past. The average human life span in North America has increased to 77 years for men and 81 for women. This translates into 4.047e+7 minutes for men and 4.257e+7 for women. It seems like a long time... until it doesn't. Herrick captured it in his advice to virgins: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46546/to-the-virgins-to-make-much-of-time "Gather ye rose buds while ye may Old Time is still a-flying; And this same flower that smiles today Tomorrow will be dying." My grandparents' modest home in coal country WV cautioned: "Just one life it will soon be past Only what's done for Christ will last" Blackfoot Native Americans offer this poetic appraisal of the situation: "What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset." Carpe diem, indeed.
    • JK James George
      Thanks Juliet, my thoughtful and considerate daughter for your interesting comment. Very impressive that a modern women can live 0.21 times ten to the seventh power longer as compared with us guys. No wonder you-all are so impressive! Those 2.1 million minutes really adds up, until one considers that ... as you say ... it's only a blink of an eye blink, or exactly four years on the nose! Hmm, at seventy-seven, my time is nearly all gone! (smiley face) Dad.
  2. Name*
    I was certainly impressed by your blog about Douglas Preston’s article. I was equally impressed by your daughter’s comments. It’s obvious she is quite the reader and writer, like her father. You two must have such interesting conversations. At our age it makes the life we have left, much more fun when we can share our interests and passions with family and those we love. She’s a credit to you both in many ways I’m sure, I’m constantly amazed with your ravenous readings, as well as your impressive accounts (blogs) of so many books and articles . Plus all your other hobbies and responsibilities. Perhaps someday you’ll share how you manage your time in such a way, to do It all, and do it so well I might add, Thank's for sharing your time and your thoughts, as the clock ticks it’s way into our lives. Or should I say “out of our life ? Since that’s your job, I’ll let you decide. Enough of this, I need write less and start reading more. Keep up the good, no, great work!

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