slumber-powered

after the sleeping comes the waking up.

T. Rex, mass extinctions, and serendipity

Posted by c. wagner on November 12, 2009

I’ve probably said this already, but I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. A lot of reading. I had yesterday off and went through two good-sized hunks of non-fiction. One title I stumbled across after following a link from a Twitter feed to a blog to a magazine article to my library and finally the book. The other I spotted in the hand of one of the hosts of a documentary I was watching.

The documentary-inspired title was T. rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter Alvarez. It details the hunt for the meteor impact crater linked to the extinction of the dinosaurs (and just about everything else on Earth at the time). This would be the monstrous, but nigh-invisible crater called Chicxulub just off the Yucatan peninsula.

Alvarez’s description of the immediate effects of the dinosaur-killer is terrifying and strangely beautiful. There’s nothing like the image of a mushroom cloud reaching up all the way through the atmosphere or the very air glowing red from bits of rock screaming back down. And there’s nothing like that sort of image to make you feel for the fragility of life on our beautiful little planet.

It is worth pondering the realization that each of us is descended from unknown ancestors who were alive on that day when the fatal rock fell from the sky. They survived and the dinosaurs did not, and that is the reason why we are here now–as individuals and as a species. That one terrible day undid the benefits which 150 million years of natural selection had conferred upon the dinosaurs, making them ever fitter to be the large land animals of Earth. Evolution had not equipped them to survive the environmental disasters inflicted by a huge impact, and when the holocaust was over, they were gone. [page 130]

I feel very, very small.

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