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June 02, 2006

Crater In Antartica May Be Evidence Of Biggest Meteor Impact In History

...and responsible for the Permian-Triassic mass-extiction that wiped out nearly all animal life on earth.

And also, as a bonus, the incredible impact may have split Australia from Antartica and sent it moving northward.

Planetary scientists have found evidence of a meteor impact much larger and earlier than the one that killed the dinosaurs -- an impact that they believe caused the biggest mass extinction in Earth's history.

The 300-mile-wide crater lies hidden more than a mile beneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. And the gravity measurements that reveal its existence suggest that it could date back about 250 million years -- the time of the Permian-Triassic extinction, when almost all animal life on Earth died out.

Its size and location -- in the Wilkes Land region of East Antarctica, south of Australia -- also suggest that it could have begun the breakup of the Gondwana supercontinent by creating the tectonic rift that pushed Australia northward.

Scientists believe that the Permian-Triassic extinction paved the way for the dinosaurs to rise to prominence. The Wilkes Land crater is more than twice the size of the Chicxulub crater in the Yucatan peninsula, which marks the impact that may have ultimately killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The Chicxulub meteor is thought to have been 6 miles wide, while the Wilkes Land meteor could have been up to 30 miles wide -- four or five times wider.

"This Wilkes Land impact is much bigger than the impact that killed the dinosaurs, and probably would have caused catastrophic damage at the time," said Ralph von Frese, a professor of geological sciences at Ohio State University.

Al Gore immediately seized upon the news to demand that we reduce carbon production, because "atmospheric carbon is a sort of 'supermagnet' for meteors, asteroids, comets, and 'temporal anomalies, as seen on Star Trek: TNG.' "

In all seriousness, it really is kind of a wonder that human beings ever made it at all.


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posted by Ace at 03:41 PM

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