The Chicxulub crater is famous for two main reasons: it was formed by the asteroid that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs and it is the best-preserved example of a peak-ring basin crater. Unfortunately, it is buried under 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) of sediment.
But an international group of scientists has come up with an ingenious way to learn more about its formation. They searched the Moon for a similar crater and found the Schrödinger impact basin, a large crater located near the South Pole on the far side of our satellite.
“The features seen in the Schrödinger basin also paint an amazing picture of Earth’s Chicxulub crater,” said lead author David Kring, from the Lunar and Planetary Institute, in a statement.
“Observations of the lunar basin suggest the rock in the Chicxulub basin’s peak ring flowed, in part, because it was dissected into a large number of rocky blocks with reduced cohesion and possibly offset by kilometer-scale fault motions.”
In a paper, published in Nature Communication, the team discussed where the 2.5-kilometer-high (1.5 miles) peak rings surrounding the lunar crater came from. Observations and computer simulations indicate that the impact uplifted rocks from depths of down to 30 kilometers (18 miles) below the lunar crust.
The impact would have lifted debris 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the surface before collapsing, within an hour, forming the edges of the crater, which is 320 kilometers (200 miles) across. The same would have happened on Earth as well, although more quickly due to our planet having greater gravity.
“The Chicxulub peak ring, now buried, would have been composed of rocks from deep in the Earth’s crust and, when emplaced, would have produced a jagged mountain range that rose from the crater floor,” continued Kring.
“If one wants to imagine how the Chicxulub crater looked soon after impact, one only needs to peer at the Schrödinger basin on the Moon.”
The research shows how we can use celestial bodies to investigate Earth’s geology. And more investigation of the Schrödinger basin will bring more understanding of the Cretaceous extinction.