Today’s Solutions: June 29, 2022

Thanks to carbon dating and a number of other scientific detecting techniques, we can sometimes see moments in time and deduce exactly what happened. It’s a little like solving a crime from 66 million years ago, and, in this case, the crime was the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. 

Paleontologists have discovered a fossil of a dinosaur that was alive the moment the meteor struck that caused the species’ extinction. 

“Ultimate dinosaur drumstick”

Paleontologists discovered the remains of a thescelosaurus neglectus in Tanis, North Dakota. It was a leg to be precise. What’s amazing is that the leg is almost perfectly preserved. Even some of its skin is preserved in the fossil. From this and other evidence found around the site, the team has been able to date the leg to the day the asteroid struck, causing the extinction of the dinosaurs. They have also found debris from the asteroid which rained down during the impact. 

“The time resolution we can achieve at this site is beyond our wildest dreams … This really should not exist and it’s absolutely gobsmackingly beautiful. I never dreamt in all my career that I would get to look at something a) so time-constrained; and b) so beautiful, and also tells such a wonderful story,” said Philip Manning, Professor of Natural History at Manchester University. 

They have been able to match the debris found at the Tanis site to that breathed in by a fish in Mexico at around the same point in history. This gave the team another reference point and more data with which to date the leg at the Tanis site. 

A moment frozen in time

It’s rare to assemble a scene in time like this and to learn from it. The team believes it has found a piece of the asteroid itself. They also found a turtle, some small mammals, triceratops skin, and a pterosaur embryo inside its egg. 

“We’ve got so many details with this site that tells us what happened moment by moment, it’s almost like watching it play out in the movies. You look at the rock column, you look at the fossils there, and it brings you back to that day,” said Robert DePalma, the University of Manchester graduate student leading the Tanis dig.

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