A Tyrannosaurus Wrecks #DeathByComet #DeathByVolcano @profmcateer

There is no doubt that a big rock from space hurtled through the Earth’s atmosphere at the same approximate time that the dinosaurs were eliminated from the species chain 65 million years ago. But despite this common knowledge, there is still an open question as to whether Dinosaurs were on the way out anyway, whether a new spurt of volcanic eruptions finally knocked them off, or whether really was a case of Death By Comet.


New research published in Science suggest it may have been the perfect storm of all three of three reasons.

State shift in Deccan volcanism at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary, possibly induced by impact

As reported on EarthSky.org

A team of geologists have uncovered evidence that an asteroid impact on Earth 66 million years ago accelerated huge Indian volcanic eruptions – known as the Deccan Traps – for hundreds of thousands of years. The researchers suggest that, together, these planet-wide catastrophes led to the extinction of many land and marine animals, including the dinosaurs.

The researchers found that the eruptions accelerated within 50,000 years of the asteroid impact and were likely reignited by the impact, which may have generated magnitude 9 earthquakes or stronger everywhere on Earth.

For 35 years, paleontologists and geologists have debated the role that these two global events – the asteroid impact and the Deccan Traps eruptions – played in the last mass extinction. One side claims the eruptions were irrelevant, and the other side claims the impact was a blip in a long-term die-off.

The new evidence includes what the researcher say are the most accurate dates yet for the volcanic eruptions before and after the impact. The new dates show that the Deccan Traps lava flows, which at the time were erupting at a slower pace, doubled in output within 50,000 years of the asteroid or comet impact that is thought to have initiated the last mass extinction on Earth.

Both the impact and the volcanism would have blanketed the planet with dust and noxious fumes, say the scientists, drastically changing the climate and sending many species to an early grave.

Luckily for us humans, looks like the Dinosaurs never stood a chance.


Rubber does bounce. #67/p #philae #rosetta


When the Europe Space Agency saw the comet in detail a few weeks ago, it was a little upsetting. Rather than the usual ’roundish’ shape, this comet was very clearly shaped like a rubber duck. This was going to make the landing difficult. But today they soft-landed their Philae probe onto the comet. Undoubtedly this image will be one of the most memorable of this campaign as the washing-machine sized probe started it journey onto the surface, capping a ten-year, four-billion-mile journey.

However there was one glitch. As comets are not really ‘solid’ they have a unusual and somewhat unpredictable gravity. The plan was to fire grappling hooks and grab onto the comet upon landing. However, the harpoons failed to fire and so the probe bounced. At least once. Maybe more. It did send a signal so it looks alive. And it has missed the boulders, cliffs and gas-venting cracks in the vicinity. We’ll know more over the next few days as we communicate with the Rosetta mothership, still in orbit around the comet.

Then, onto drilling and the search for water.

Naked eye comet


“Certainly not a ‘great comet’ by any means,” astronomer Alan Hale, the co-discoverer of 1997’s Comet Hale-Bopp, wrote in a posting to the Comets-ML online forum. “The visibility should hopefully improve over the next few nights as it climbs higher out of the twilight, but I don’t foresee anything spectacular.” So our latest celestial visitor, comet panstarrs, might not be bright as we would have hoped, but maybe here in southwestern desert we will get a good view.

That’s what makes Tuesday’s viewing opportunity so key: On March 12, PanSTARRS should be sitting just to the left of the crescent moon, as indicated in this sky chart from SpaceWeather.com. The moon will thus serve as a guidepost for you to turn your binoculars to the right spot just after sunset. There will be about a 10- to 20-minute window to catch the comet each night starting about March 12 and going through the end of the month. It will get dimmer night after night, so Tuesday is the prime date and experienced amateurs at high elevations with no cloud may get a good view. So go round to your astronomer friend just after sunset and see if you can find it.