(Key the Blue Danube or Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon)
Imagine the Chicxulub asteroid on its last circular path around the sun before being knocked off of its orbit, putting it on a collision course with a distant blue planet.
At ten kilometers across, the giant object was likely just a fragment from a much larger asteroid, one that had collided with something else cascading through the asteroid belt. There is no way of knowing how long it sped through empty space before it’s inevitable plunge into Earth’s atmosphere.
The trillion-ton Chicxulub meteor was traveling at 60 times the speed of sound, about 22 kilometers per second, fast enough to circle the entire globe in 3.5 minutes. As soon as it penetrated the outer edge of the atmosphere it built up such unimaginable pressure that everything down to the Earth’s surface as wide as 2,000 kilometers was instantaneously incinerated. No one, not even the giant creatures below, could have seen anything coming other than a brief instant of blinding bright light.
It only took two seconds for Chicxulub to cross from the edge of the atmosphere into what is now known as the Yucatan Peninsula. It impacted with a force 100 million times greater than that dropped over Hiroshima, the equivalent of 30,000 nuclear bombs.
The Chicxulub meteor tore down into the Earth’s crust for 20 kilometers before coming to rest. Molten rock, ash and gas were ejected from the crater with such force that some materials were shot out of the atmosphere back into space. A superheated cloud of particulates covered everything within 5,000 kilometers. Volcanoes and seismic faults around the world were shaken to life and a 100 meter-high tsunami traveling at the speed of at the speed of a commercial jet washed into land as far as modern-day Iowa.
In the first ten minutes the 180 kilometer-wide crater formed. The Earth was covered in darkness for at least 6 months before the clouds of ash and dust settled back to the ground. The massive amounts of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere blanketed the globe and trapped in so much heat that in just ten years more than 75 percent of all plant and animal species went extinct.
Over 66 million years ago the meteor found its final resting place deep under the present-day Mexican town of Chicxulub from which it earned its Mayan name.