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Evidence uncovered of asteroid that hit Earth 66 million years ago

Photo: VCG/Getty Images

New research released on Friday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has resulted in a fossilized portrait of the day nearly 66 million years ago when an asteroid struck the Earth moving at nearly 45,000 MPH, producing a supersonic shock wave and wiping out the vast majority of the planet's living organisms.

Details: What emerged is a "remarkable trove of fossils," writes The New Yorker's Douglas Preston, adding this appears to be "the most important paleontological discovery of the new century." Experts, including the primary author of the report, Robert DePalma, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Kansas, unearthed evidence in North Dakota of the asteroid.

  • Per The New Yorker: "All of it was quickly entombed and preserved in the muck: dying and dead creatures, both marine and freshwater; plants, seeds, tree trunks, roots, cones, pine needles, flowers, and pollen; shells, bones, teeth, and eggs; tektites, shocked minerals, tiny diamonds, iridium-laden dust, ash, charcoal, and amber-smeared wood. As the sediments settled, blobs of glass rained into the mud, the largest first, then finer and finer bits, until grains sifted down like snow."
  • What's more: Jan Smit of the University of Amsterdam identified dinosaur footsteps presumably captured just before the asteroid killed them. Purdue University geophysicist and impact expert Jay Melosh called the discovery "the death blow preserved at one particular site."

Reality check: Per the New Yorker story: "...if DePalma’s hypothesis proves correct, the scientific value of the site will be immense." Some skeptical archeological experts are hanging on to that "if," with serious concerns surrounding the elusiveness to the Hell Creek Formation fossil site. Per the AP, Kirk Johnson, the director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History said the area is controlled to safeguard the site from poachers.

  • Johnson expressed additional unease about DePalma's claims that were published in the New Yorker magazine article but not in the scientific paper. Upon request, DePalma was unreachable.

It's important to remember that this is the initial study that have resulted in bold claims. More studies can allow for confirmation.