The Guardian

Yes, the dinosaurs were incredibly ‘unlucky’. Just as well for us | Brian Switek

If the Yucatán asteroid hadn’t struck, dinosaurs would have continued ruling Earth – and our primate forebears taken a very different evolutionary route
‘Almost certainly you wouldn’t pop into a dinosaur-ruled 2017 and find a Tyrannosaurus rex staring down at you.’ Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Sixty-six million years ago, dinosaurs had an exceptionally bad day. A chunk of space rock nine kilometres across smacked into what’s now Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, instantaneously triggering an extinction event that for ever changed the nature of life on Earth. This is one of the rare moments when we can look back at a pivotal point, where history veered off on an unexpected path. Maybe that’s why we’ve been so obsessed with what would have happened if Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops and other Cretaceous celebrities hadn’t gone extinct.

The urge to hit rewind on. The asteroid hit rock layers so rich in hydrocarbons that the impact threw massive amounts of soot and sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere, putting the chill on organisms that survived the initial blast. And the kicker? Rocks with such amounts of hydrocarbons cover only about 13% of the Earth’s surface.

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