Located near the town of Chicxulub in Mexico, this crater has a story that is as interesting as it is ancient. The crater itself is buried beneath the Yucatán Peninsula and was formed through the impact of a large asteroid around 10 to 15 kilometers in diameter. The date of this impact coincides precisely with the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary, a little under 66 million years ago, and it is a widely accepted theory that this impact may have caused the global devastation and change of climate that killed off 75% of all plant and animal species alive at that time. This was probably the very asteroid that killed the dinosaurs and the scar it left on our planet remains an incredibly humbling place to visit.
It is only in relatively recent history that we have truly explored and begun to understand this impact crater. A team of scientists drilled 670 meters beneath the seafloor, at the center of the impact in the Yucatan Peninsula and brought back rocks and core samples. They contain bits of the original granite bedrock that was the unfortunate ground zero for the cataclysmic cosmic impact, what we can learn from them remains to be seen.
Recent research has focused on those parts of the impact zone that are now offshore, investigating the crater’s peak ring. Peak rings can be seen all across the solar system and this is one of the only examples of such an impact here on Earth. The moon, Mars, and Mercury are all peppered with such craters, and by examining Chicxulub’s peak ring the scientists are hoping to discover whether the crater itself was among the first habitats for microbial life after the impact. Perhaps it played the roles of both destroyer and birthing pool.
The crater was discovered in the late 1970s by Antonio Camargo and Glen Penfield, two geophysicists who were searching for petroleum in the Yucatan. They were originally unable to provide or obtain evidence that the geological feature was in fact a crater. It wasn’t until 1990, with the help of Alan Hildebrand, that they could prove it to be so. The evidence they gathered that proved the crater's origin included shocked quartz as well as gravity anomalies and the presence of tektites, natural glass formed during impacts, in the surrounding areas.
You could call the crater an origin point for life as we currently know it. Without this global extinction, without this horrendous Earth-scarring cataclysm, we might not even be here today. It’s a site that is well worth the pilgrimage and you can see the effect it had and still has on the shape of our planet by sky, on foot, or even by sea if you’re a diver.