Pieces of the Asteroid That Killed the Dinosaurs Are Found in Hell Creek Formation, North Dakota

Prateek Dasgupta

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Hell Creek State park, site of the asteroid fragmentsWikimedia Commons.

Experts believe the impact crater to be in Chicxulub, off the coast of Mexico. Along with the asteroid, scientists also found dead fish, a turtle impaled with a stick, and a dinosaur’s foot. The Hell Creek formation is 2,000 miles from the Chicxulub impact crater, which gives us an idea about the intensity of the asteroid’s collision with earth.

According to Robert De Palma, a postgraduate researcher at the University of Manchester, the fish died because of the impact and not from the nuclear fire that spread across the earth, which eventually killed all the dinosaurs.

The American Midwest differed greatly from what we see today. It was a swampy rainforest. The asteroid’s impact changed the landscape in the Midwest. After the asteroid’s impact, moving water bodies, known as seiches, were formed. These water bodies buried the fish alive.

Why is the fish important?

De Palma found the clues for the asteroid in the gills of the fish. When the asteroid hit the earth, it threw small bits of molten rock from the crater. These tiny rocks then crystallized in the cooler earth’s atmosphere into a glass-like material, known as spherules. The spherules got lodged in the gills of the fish.

Studying the fossils of the fish, the scientists found vital clues about the last days of the dinosaurs. The fish fossils also reveal the asteroid hit the earth during spring.

“One piece of evidence after another started stacking up and changing the story. It was a progression of clues like a Sherlock Holmes investigation,”- Robert De Palma.

Fish weren’t the only source of spherules discovered by the scientists. The resin of a tree preserved many spherules from the fateful day in amber. Analyzing the amber, De Palma and his team found calcium-rich glass fragments.

De Palma’s research caught the eye of NASA. The researcher presented his findings at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland last month. The scientists at NASA termed De Palma’s findings as “mind-blowing”. To date, we knew about an asteroid hitting the earth, but now we have proof of the same preserved in tiny glass-like crystals.

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As a writer, lost civilizations and human progress fascinate me. My goal on News Break is to spark people's interest in the past, archaeology, natural history, and the history of scientific inquiry.

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