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What happened to the dinosaurs?

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Quick Answer

The end of the dinosaurs is one of the greatest mysteries of paleontology. The leading theory of their extinction involves a massive meteor impact, possibly the one that created the Chicxulub crater in Mexico. Alternative theories include multiple global impacts, a sudden change in the sea level and a worldwide increase in volcanic activity that drastically altered the atmosphere and global climate.

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Full Answer

According to the Alvarez Hypothesis, the extinction of the dinosaurs occurred as a result of a massive comet or meteor impact. One of the major pieces of evidence that supports this hypothesis is a layer of iridium found in clay that marks the boundary between the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods, which is when the dinosaurs went extinct. In the 1990s, geologists discovered a 112-mile-wide crater just off the Yucatan peninsula that provided evidence of just such a massive impact occurring around the same time as the extinction.

A few questions remain unanswered, however. A single impact would have had devastating effects on the environment, but most of the dangerous changes, such as an increase in acid rain, would only last a decade or two after the event. The dinosaurs' extinction occurred over a more extended period of time, bringing up the possibility that multiple impacts, possibly including the one that caused the Shiva crater in India, may have contributed to the extinction.

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