This month scientists will drill deep into the seafloor off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico in an effort to learn more about the beginning of the end for dinosaurs. A nine-mile wide asteroid smashed into the Earth 65.5 million years ago at that location, leaving behind what is known as the Chicxulub crater. Researchers from the University of Texas will lead the exploration, which seeks to collect samples from nearly 5,000 feet beneath the seafloor.
The asteroid’s landing released a massive amount of energy, approximately equal to one billion times that of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The upcoming drilling expedition is the first of its kind, since the area has been locked down by the oil industry. The UT research team was awarded $10 million last year to fund the exploration, which will grab core samples that scientists hope will shed some light on the series of near-apocalyptic events that wiped out the dinosaurs and large marine reptiles that had ruled the planet for 135 million years.
Sean Gulick, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin Institute for Geophysics (UTIG), will partner with British and Mexican teams during the exploration of the crater. Drilling will target the crater’s “peak ring,” which is a circle of topographically elevated rocks that surround the crater’s center. After 65.5 million years of sediment, there is a lot of drilling to do before reaching samples from the days of the dinosaurs.
In addition to destructive forces, the team will be looking for signs of life in the samples they retrieve. “The sediments that filled in the [crater] should have the record for organisms living on the seafloor and in the water that were there for the first recovery after the mass extinction event,” Gulick said. “The hope is we can watch life come back.”