Shuttle takes image of vast Mexico crater

Depression left by object from space believed to have wiped out dinosaurs

March 07, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE NEWS

WASHINGTON - A NASA space shuttle has taken the first aerial picture of the crater left by the monster comet or asteroid that most scientists believe doomed the dinosaurs to extinction 65 million years ago.

The image shows part of the outer rim of the 112-mile-wide Chicxulub (pronounced CHICK-soo-lube) crater on the northwest corner of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

It's a semicircular trough, 10 to 15 feet deep and 3 miles wide, the surface evidence of what was once a 3,000-foot-deep gouge.

"If you walked across it, you probably wouldn't notice it. That's where the view from space becomes invaluable," said Michael Kobrick, project manager for NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.

For 10 days in February 2000, the shuttle Endeavour used a radar instrument to trace the ups and downs on 80 percent of Earth's landmass.

It brought back 200 billion detailed, 3-D measurements, which have since been analyzed and turned into a high-resolution map of North America that NASA released yesterday.

"There are spectacular features that pop out in these maps as never before, and more subtle features, like Chicxulub, become apparent for the first time," Kobrick said.

In the 1980s, scientists began to suspect that a huge space rock had smashed into what is now the Caribbean Sea. By the 1990s, most were convinced that this caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and 70 percent of the species then living on Earth.

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