News Stories

Dinosaurs Got a One-Two Punch

A huge crater has been discovered hundreds of feet beneaththe floor of the North Sea by seismic mapping equipmentdesigned for petroleum exploration. The 12-mile-wide crater,called Silverpit, is 60 to 65 million years old, going backto the end of the dinosaur era, and was created by theimpact of a massive meteorite. This means that not just one,but two, impacts killed off the dinosaurs.

Seismic readings in the area were made in 1992, whileBritish Petroleum was mapping petroleum resources in theNorth Sea. Phil Allen, a geophysicist at ProductionGeoscience, noticed them last year. "Phil was mapping deeperstuff in search of gas fields as usual, but noticed theuncharacteristically bu"py nature of the top Cretaceous inthe east of the survey,? says BP geologist Simon Stewart,who is working with Allen.

When Allen asked the computer to produce an overview of thearea, ?the dramatic rings around the central crater are whatpopped out,? Stewart says. The 12-mile-wide structurebaffled Allen, so he put a picture of the crater up on hisoffice wall with a handwritten note asking, "Anybody seenanything like this?"

Stewart added some missing pieces to the puzzle. He hadalready published research suggesting that impact cratersmight be found beneath the North Sea?s floor, where theoverlying layers of sediment would preserve them from theerosion that erases them on land.

The network of concentric rings are like nothing else seenon Earth. They are most like the larger multiringed craterson Europa and Callisto, two moons of Jupiter. Stewart andAllen are 99% certain the crater was created by a massivemeteorite impact.

The researchers think Silverpit was formed about the sametime as the Chicxulub impact in Mexico that killed off thedinosaurs 65 million years ago, meaning the Earth was hitwith a double whammy. If it's 65 million years old, Stewartsays, "We would have the possibility that Silverpit was infact a fragment of Chicxulub, leading us to wonder how manyother bits are yet to be found in oceanic basins."

When bad things like that happen to humans, how do we pullour civilizations together again and what distant memoriesdo we retain? Read "Catastrophobia" by Barbara HandClow,click here.

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