Huge asteroid impact 250 million years ago key to mass extinction

A massive asteroid bigger than Mount Everest slammed into the earth 250 million years ago causing the greatest mass extinction on record, say the scientists who believe they have found the "smoking gun" of the collision.

Geologists located the huge undersea crater off the Australian coast where they think the asteroid hit with the force of 1 million nuclear bombs, an impact that almost snuffed out life on earth. About 90 per cent of marine organisms and 80 per cent of land animals and plants died out at the end of the Permian and the beginning of the Triassic periods, for reasons that had not been explained.

If the asteroid impact is confirmed as the cause of the "great dying", it will be the second example of an extraterrestrial object being linked with a mass extinction. The other was the demise of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.

Luann Becker, of the University of California at Santa Barbara, and colleagues at the Australian National University in Canberra said that they have gathered extensive evidence of a 125-mile wide crater off the north-west coast of Australia.

Dr Becker said that her team had found fragments of a meteor in a geological layer that corresponded to the date of the Permian mass extinction 250 million years ago.

Analysis of geological cores drilled by oil companies prospecting in the region had also revealed convincing data to suggest that the crater was created by a massive object from outer space.

The scientists have found melted rock and shocked-quartz crystals that contain the tell-tale fractures that they believe are the result of a cataclysmic collision involving a huge explosive force. "Few earthly circumstances have the power to disfigure quartz, even high temperatures and pressures deep inside the earth's crust," Dr Becker said.

The study, published in Science journal, relied on two oil-company cores drilled in the Seventies and Eighties through a geological feature called "The Bedout High", which had not been previously analysed.

When the scientists started to investigate the cores, which had been stored untouched by the Geological Survey of Australia, they soon realised that they had probably been drilled through an impact crater.

The great dying at the end of the Permian period is the greatest of the five known mass extinctions. No type of life was spared: plants, insects, reptiles, fish, molluscs and microbes were all affected.

Some scientist have suggested that severe volcanic eruptions at the time may have sent soot and ash into the atmosphere and shut out the sunlight for years. Others have suggested that climate change, brought about by the formation of a giant supercontinent, was the cause.

Originally it was thought that the mass extinction took place over millions of years but more recent studies suggest that could have occurred in less than 10,000 years - a very short period in geological history.

"I think palaeontologists are now coming full circle and leading the way in saying that the extinction was extremely abrupt," Dr Becker said.

A similar impact crater has been found at Chicxulub in Mexico, which scientists have dated to about 65 million years ago - the time when the dinosaurs became extinct - which was also marked by a period of intense volcanic activity.

Dr Becker added: "We think that mass extinctions may be defined by catastrophes like impact and volcanism occurring synchronously. With the discovery of the Bedout I don't think we can call such catastrophes occurring together a coincidence any more."

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Delivery Manager - Software Company

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager Kingston Up...

Year 3 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 Primary Teacher in HullA f...

Drama Teacher - Hull and Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: The JobRandstad are currently in need of ...

Reception Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education is the UK mark...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments