The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs had perfect timing, research shows

Despite all that we know about the dinosaurs, there's still a lot to learn, and today we're discovering more about their disappearance from our fair planet. New research that delves into the asteroid that hit Earth, making the dinosaurs go extinct as a result, is giving us a window into just what happened to make the impact so severe. As it turns out, the size of the asteroid and the force of the impact may not have been to blame, but rather where the impact occurred could be responsible for the dinosaurs dying out.

The Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event will be the focus of a new BBC show called The Day The Dinosaurs Died. In the show, a team of scientists lead by Professors Jo Morgan and Sean Gulick examine the Chicxulub crater in the Gulf of Mexico, where the 10 kilometer wide asteroid collided with Earth at the end of the Cretaceous era. Their research includes taking rock core samples from the crater, and what they found in those cores suggests that the location of impact had a bigger influence than anything else.

Since the asteroid hit in the shallow waters of the Gulf, it injected a large amount amount of sulfur from gypsum into the atmosphere. As Ben Garrod, one of the presenters of The Day The Dinosaurs Died, puts it, the gypsum is what sealed the dinosaurs' fate, and if the asteroid would have landed deeper in the Pacific or Atlantic ocean, the dinosaurs may have survived the catastrophic event.

"An impact in the nearby Atlantic or Pacific oceans would have meant much less vapourised rock – including the deadly gypsum," he said. "The cloud would have been less dense and sunlight could still have reached the planet's surface, meaning what happened next might have been avoided."

Of course, that's not what happened. With the cloud from this impact blocking out the sun, plants could no longer perform photosynthesis and the dinosaurs that relied on them – along with the dinosaurs that fed on those herbivorous dinosaurs – began to die out. If those plants would have had enough sunlight to continue carrying out photosynthesis, it's possible the dinosaurs could have survived the ordeal.

Then again, maybe it's ultimately good that the dinosaurs died off during the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. After all, with dinosaurs gone, mammals were able to fill the niches left behind, and it wasn't long before they became one of the dominant groups on the planet. Without the dinosaurs dying off when they did, it's possible that we humans wouldn't be around today.