Sixty-five million years ago, a meteorite more than 10 kilometers wide (6.2 miles) collided with the Earth. It was traveling at 20 kilometers per second (12.4 miles per second) and at the time of impact, its temperature was 18,000°C (32,432°F) — three times that of the sun’s surface. The massive meteor created a colossal crater — more than 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) deep and about 200 kilometers (124.3 miles) in diameter — the largest and best-preserved crater on Earth, Chicxulub Crater.
The impact caused volcanoes to erupt, the planet to tremble, and tidal waves more than 500 meters (0.3 miles) high. This monumental movement, in turn, sent millions of tons of pulverized rock into Earth’s atmosphere, plunging it into darkness. The lack of sun eventually led to the demise of more than 70 percent of all living things on the planet, including the dinosaurs.
In 1981, scientists from PEMEX (Mexico’s national petroleum company) were drilling in the Yucatán Peninsula when they discovered gravitational anomalies near the town of Chicxulub. The scientists took core samples and soon concluded that the meteor that had changed the face of the planet crashed in the Yucatán. It provided an explanation as to why the limestone-covered peninsula had eroded so dramatically, creating a ring of caves and cenotes in numbers found nowhere else on Earth.
In 1991, UNAM (the National Autonomous University of Mexico) in cooperation with NASA confirmed the theory.
Chicxulub Puerto may be barely a blip on most travelers’ radar screens, but it is oddly compelling to find yourself at ground zero of arguably the most important and cataclysmic event of all time. Life as we know it began here.
© Gary Chandler & Liza Prado from Moon Yucatán Peninsula, 9th edition