Scientists probe ancient asteroid crater

Edinburgh scientists are joining an international expedition to investigate an asteroid crater off the coast of Mexico.

During an eight-week project in the Yucatán Peninsula, the team will collect cores of rocks from the Chicxulub impact crater, the best-preserved large impact crater on Earth.

They seek to better understand the processes involved when a large asteroid – probably about 10km wide – hit the Earth around 66 million years ago, forming the 180km crater.

This event had massive environmental impact and is linked to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Core sampling

Researchers are keen to learn more about the crater’s topographic peak ring – a circle of hills that stand above the otherwise flat crater floor.

The team, led by the University of Texas at Austin and Imperial College London and co-ordinated in Mexico by the National Autonomous University of Mexico, will collect cores from a single drill site off the coast.

Based on the Liftboat Myrtle, researchers plan to collect cores as deep as 1500 metres below the seafloor.

They hope to recover rock samples from and around the impact crater.

Rock studies

Overall the expedition aims to study the rocks that form the peak ring, to determine whether, for example, they are from the Earth’s upper, mid or lower crust.

Their samples are hoped to reveal whether intense hydrothermal activity took place in the rocks that form the peak ring, and for how long.

The team also hopes to better understand what forms of microbes might have colonised the peak ring.

Researchers will also seek to resolve how life in the crater region developed after the impact, such as how diversity in the ocean changed over time.

The expedition is conducted by the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD) as part of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP).

It is also supported by the International Continental Scientific Drilling Programme (ICDP).

The expedition was also supported by the Yucatán Government, Mexican federal government agencies and scientists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the Centro de Investigación Científica de Yucatán (CICY).

This is a fantastic opportunity to find out what microbes colonise an ancient impact crater and what that might tell us about the habitability of deep craters in places like Mars.

Professor Charles CockellSchool of Physics and Astronomy

Related links

School of Physics and Astronomy