Scientists are seeking a core sample from the Chicxulub crater that marks the remains of an asteroid impact which ended the age of the dinosaurs nearly 66 million years ago.
That geological feature will be probed by scientists who will drill nearly 5,000 feet beneath the seabed's surface in an effort to unravel mysteries of the ancient world-changing event. The core sample obtained in this two-month-long effort will be the first ever obtained from the center of the crater, located near Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
Dinosaurs ruled the Earth for roughly 135 million years before their reign was ended by the ancient impact. The 9-mile-wide asteroid strike set off forest fires around the globe, and sent vast quantities of dust and debris into the air, which blocked sunlight. Together, these events wiped out the dinosaurs, along with most other species of plants and animals.
The Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction, abbreviated as the K-T event, left behind only birds as the last surviving dinosaurs. Following this mass extinction, small mammals began to establish their dominance over the planet, paving the way for the evolution of human beings. The impact basin left behind after the strike measures more than 110 miles in diameter.
Drilling in the underwater crater is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2016. This will collect rare specimens of the impact crater for analysis by geologists and other scientists. An international team of researchers recently met in Mexico near the site of the impact crater to plan the expedition.
The peak ring of the crater, where the material at the center rises above the surrounding landscape, will become the epicenter of the sample study. These features are formed during the moments during and following impact, and are commonly seen in similar impact craters.
Life may have formed near the peak ring in the hot, mineral-rich environment. Density maps of the feature suggest that strange organisms may have once existed there. Researchers leading the expedition hope this unique core sample could reveal new information about this ancient life.
"The sediments that filled in the [crater] should have the record for organisms living on the sea floor and in the water that were there for the first recovery after the mass extinction event. The hope is we can watch life come back," Sean Gulick from the University of Texas at Austin Institute for Geophysics (UTIG) said.
After the core is extracted, it will be sent to Germany, where the column will be cut in two halves. The first of these will be examined right away by research groups from several nations, including the United States, Mexico and The United Kingdom. The remainder of the sample will be housed at a core repository at Texas A&M University for future research.
"[The Chicxulub crater] is the only impact crater linked to a mass extinction event - therefore, it is an incredible opportunity to study how life recovered after the mass extinction," Gulick said.
About $10 million in funding for the expedition has been approved and scheduled by the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD), part of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), and the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP).