Chicxulub crater study suggests asteroid impacts could create habitats for life

Scientists studying a 65-million-year old crater in the Gulf of Mexico, caused by an asteroid impact, claim it could have provided a habitat for early life to take hold on earth.  

The research into the Chicxulub crater, involving a team from our University, has shown how large asteroid impacts deform rocks in a way that may produce a suitable environment for early life.

Around 65 million years ago a massive asteroid crashed into the Gulf of Mexico causing an impact so huge that the blast and subsequent knock-on effects wiped out around 75 per cent of all life on Earth, including most of the dinosaurs. This is known as the Chicxulub impact.

The team’s new work has confirmed that the asteroid, which created the Chicxulub crater, hit the Earth’s surface with such a force that it pushed rocks, which at that time were ten kilometres beneath the surface, farther downwards and then outwards. These rocks then moved inwards again towards the impact zone and then up to the surface, before collapsing downwards and outwards again to form the peak ring. In total they moved an approximate total distance of 30 kilometres in a matter of a few minutes.

Dr Erwan Le Ber from our Department of Geology and Dr Johanna Lofi at Montpellier are co-authors on the paper as part of the team with responsibility for measuring and interpreting the physical properties downhole and in core. Erwan and Johanna worked on the offshore expedition and during the first analysis phase.

As part of the ECORD Science Operator, research and technical staff from the European Petrophysics Consortium, led by our Department of Geology, were highly involved in data acquisition. Recent Leicester MGeol Geology graduates, Laurence Phillpot, Zeinab Adeyemi and Grace Howe, worked as technicians alongside colleagues from Montpellier, Aachen, the Bremen Core Repository and wider Science team providing expertise in physical properties (e.g. porosity and density measurements), producing a first crucial dataset that helped the team to test their models.

Lead for the European Petrophysics Consortium at Leicester, Professor Sarah Davies said: “This is an incredibly exciting expedition where we have provided expertise and equipment to support an international team of scientists. Our own early career researchers have had the opportunity to make a significant scientific contribution through their involvement in the initial research.”