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.
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