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Meteorite minerals hint at earth extinctions, climate change

Posted September 13, 2013

A huge asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs may not have been the only cosmic event to cause mass extinctions or change Earth’s climate. Tiny minerals leftover from many smaller meteorites could provide the geological evidence needed to show how rocks falling from the sky changed the course of life’s evolution on our planet more than just once.

Scientists think that a giant asteroid, which broke up long ago in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, eventually made its way to Earth and led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Data from NASA’s WISE mission likely rules out the leading suspect, a member of a family of asteroids called Baptistina, so the search for the origins of the dinosaur-killing asteroid goes on. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The tiny minerals called spinels—about the size of a sand grain—can survive the harshest weather and chemical changes on Earth’s surface. Swedish researchers hope to collect enough of the spinels in different parts of the world to connect the dots between the breakup of huge asteroids in space and certain extinction or climate events during Earth’s history.

“I think it would be very interesting if our spinel approach in the long run could provide empirical evidence for how asteroid showers in the inner solar system correlate with the onset of ice ages,” said Birger Schmitz, a marine geologist at Lund University in Sweden.


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