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Did Australia Asteroid End Snowball Earth?

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Scientists now believe an ancient crater in the Australian outback is the oldest known asteroid impact and might have brought about the end of Snowball Earth, a time hypothesized as when the entire planet was essentially a giant ball of ice.

In an article published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, researchers say new testing has determined Australia’s Yarrabubba crater to be 2.229 billion years old, half the age of the Earth itself. The age was determined by testing minerals in the crater.

“Now we know the Yarrabubba crater was made right at the end of what’s commonly referred to as the early Snowball Earth — a time when the atmosphere and oceans were evolving and becoming more oxygenated and when rocks deposited on many continents recorded glacial conditions,” Chris Kirkland, who co-authored the study, told CNN.

Kirkland is a professor at Curtin University’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences in Perth, Australia.

“The age of the Yarrabubba impact matches the demise of a series of ancient glaciations,” added Nicholas Timms, study co-author and associate professor at Curtin University’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “After the impact, glacial deposits are absent in the rock record for 400 million years.

“This twist of fate suggests that the large meteorite impact may have influenced global climate.”

According to the study, researchers ran simulations to determine what might happen if a meteor the size of Yarrabubba struck an ice sheet in the conditions hypothesized on Earth at the time.

“Calculations indicated that an impact into an ice-covered continent could have sent half a trillion tons of water vapor — an important greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere,” the study said. “This finding raises the question whether this impact may have tipped the scales enough to end glacial conditions.”


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