"What killed the dinosaurs?" is an enduring question that has plagued grade school students and seasoned scientists alike. We've long known that the asteroid that created the Chicxulub crater in Mexico was linked to the demise of everyone's favorite giant lizards, but the details have been a bit sketchy.
Now, a team of scientists have uncovered evidence that lends credence to the notion that the dinosaurs were not wiped out by the asteroid, but by the slow starvation that followed.
A Matter Of Timing
It is now believed that had the asteroid hit Earth 30 seconds sooner or later it would have landed in the Pacific or Atlantic, thus drastically changing the fallout that followed. This led to a much less climatic death than the one that is often pictured in movies and TV.
Not With A Bang, But A Whimper
Contrary to the popular imagery and despite the fact that the asteroid hit the planet with the force of 10 nuclear bombs, it wasn't the initial impact that finished off the dinosaurs, but rather the lack of food that followed the collision.
"In this cold, dark world food ran out of the oceans within a week and shortly after on land," said Ben Garrod, who is working on the BBC's documentary The Day The Dinosaurs Died. "With nothing to eat anywhere on the planet, the mighty dinosaurs stood little chance of survival."
As catchy as the BBC's title is, it is not entirely accurate. The Chicxulub impact was certainly devastating, but it wasn't powerful enough to wipe out all life on the planet in a single blow. Instead, they slowly starved to death over the course of a few months.
"They died suddenly and were buried quickly," said paleontologist Ken Lacovara. "It tells us this is a moment in geological time. That's days, weeks, maybe months. But this is not thousands of years; it's not hundreds of thousands of years. This is essentially an instantaneous event."
Lacovara's research also casts doubt on the notion that there were numerous extinction events that wiped out the dinosaurs. His findings appear to indicate that they all died within a few months of the asteroid's impact.
Goodbye Dinosaurs, Hello Mammals
The asteroid's impact triggered a mass extinction event that wiped out as much as 75 percent of life on the planet, but it also allowed new life to emerge.
It certainly took some time, but eventually, mammals rose to fill the void left by the dinosaurs. Without this event, it is possible that Earth would still be ruled by giant lizards. While that might sound awesome, it is important to remember that, in such a scenario, mammals would have had a much more difficult time.
"Chances are, if it wasn't for that asteroid we wouldn't be here today," said Alice Roberts, the show's presenter.
As disappointed as fans of Jurassic Park might be, it's probably for the best that the dinosaurs are gone.