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Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Possibly Came From a “Safe” Location in the Asteroid Belt

Researchers believe they have pinpointed the location in space where the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago originally came from and it’s not where you’d expect.

According to researchers from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, the asteroid probably came from a “safe” location in the outer area of the main asteroid belt that orbits between Mars and Jupiter. While the theory was that there weren’t as many impacting asteroids in that location, it’s not as “safe” as previously believed as the researchers now claim that large asteroids from that specific area have been sent to our planet much more often than what was previously theorized.

They came to this conclusion by studying the composition of space rocks from that “safe” area in the asteroid belt and compared their findings to the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs and left the Chicxulub crater in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. More specifically, they analyzed rock samples from the crater and compared them to computer models of 130,000 asteroids that came from the main asteroid belt.

Asteroid belt

As for how the asteroids ended up leaving the belt, they were sent to “escape hatches” by thermal forces and were ultimately sent flying out towards Earth. In fact, large asteroids similar to the 6-mile one that destroyed the dinosaurs were “at least 10 times more often” to impact our planet than previous studies have estimated.

Asteroids that were around 6 miles in width have impacted Earth at an average of once every 250 million years and about half of them were carbonaceous chondrites which are believed to be the same type of asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs and have been described as being “some of the most pristine materials in the solar system”.

In a statement, Dr. Simone Marchi noted, “This result is intriguing not only because the outer half of the asteroid belt is home to large numbers of carbonaceous chondrite impactors, but also because the team’s simulations can, for the first time, reproduce the orbits of large asteroids on the verge of approaching Earth.”

Dr. David Nesvorný weighed in by stating, “This work will help us better understand the nature of the Chicxulub impact, while also telling us where other large impactors from Earth’s deep past might have originated.”

Their study was published in the scientific journal Icarus where it can be read in full.