A team of international scientists will begin drilling inside the Mexican crater site where it's believed that an asteroid impact 66 million years ago caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. The team hopes its research could discover how life returned to earth following the last extinction event.
“Our plan is to drill into millions of years of sediments that occurred after the impact,” expedition co-chief scientist Dr. Sean Gulick told Fusion. “The main goal is to basically look at limestone that’s hopefully filled with fossils and see how life came back after the extinction event.”
Gulick says the crater’s sediments can tell the story of Earth, similar to the rings of a tree. “If you think of rock layers, the youngest ones are on top and you find the older ones as you go down in depth,” he said. “You’re going downward in time.”
Next month, Gullick will travel with 28 other scientists from the U.S., Mexico, Japan, Australia and six European nations to the Mexican peninsula of Yucatán to begin work on the famous crater named after the local town of Chicxulub, or “the devil’s tail” in the Maya tongue.
Gullick’s team will drill into the crater from an offshore platform in an attempt to analyze certain rock formations, learn more about what an asteroid impact looks like, and hopefully answer questions such as what type of organisms came back first following the big hit.
“We hope to obtain samples that will allow very accurate dating of the crater,” said project co-chief scientist Joanna Morgan. “We will look for volcanic ash and date that too, which will help us with the relative timing of Chicxulub and the volcanic eruptions that were also occurring around that time.”
The project is already more than 15 years in the making, and funding didn’t come easy. The first phase of the drilling, which will cost $10 million, is being led by the International Ocean Discovery Program and the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling.
Core samples taken from the crater will be tested later this year at laboratories in Germany and at Texas A&M University, the scientists say.