19 June 2024
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Asteroid strikes may have triggered abrupt global glaciation events in the distant past, according to a new study. The research team suggests that these “Snowball Earth” periods, characterized by planet-wide ice cover for thousands or millions of years, could have been initiated by large asteroids impacting the Earth.

Asteroid Strikes as a Possible Trigger for Ancient Global Glaciations



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Scientists have long debated the causes of ancient global glaciations, known as “Snowball Earth” events, that occurred millions of years ago. A new study suggests that these extreme climate shifts could have been triggered by large asteroid impacts.

Asteroid Strikes and the “Snowball Earth” Theory

During a Snowball Earth event, the entire planet’s surface is covered in ice, even at the equator. This can last for thousands or even millions of years. The Earth has experienced at least two such events during its history, during the Neoproterozoic era, which lasted from 720 to 635 million years ago.

The Role of Asteroid Strikes in Global Glaciation

The new study, published in the journal Science Advances, proposes that asteroid impacts could have initiated these Snowball Earth events. The researchers used a sophisticated climate model to simulate the aftermath of hypothetical asteroid strikes in different periods of Earth’s history.

They found that in two warmer climate scenarios, an asteroid strike was unlikely to trigger global glaciation. However, in colder climate scenarios, such as the Last Glacial Maximum (21,000 years ago) and the Neoproterozoic era, an asteroid strike could have pushed the Earth into a Snowball state.

Rapid Cooling after Asteroid Strikes

The researchers were surprised to find that, under the right conditions, a Snowball Earth state could develop within just a decade after an asteroid impact. This rapid cooling is due to the high reflectivity of snow and ice, which reflects sunlight back into space. As more snow and ice accumulates, the Earth’s temperature drops further, creating a runaway feedback loop.

Implications for the Future: Asteroid Strikes and Global Catastrophes

The researchers say that the chances of an asteroid-induced Snowball Earth event in the future are unlikely, thanks to human-caused global warming. However, they emphasize that other impacts, such as a nuclear war, could have devastating consequences.

Wrapping Up: Asteroid Strikes and the Earth’s Climate History

The new study provides a plausible explanation for the cause of ancient Snowball Earth events. It highlights the potential role of extraterrestrial impacts in shaping our planet’s climate history. While the chances of a future Snowball Earth event are low, the study reminds us of the importance of understanding the risks posed by asteroid impacts and other global catastrophes.

FAQ’s

1. What is the “Snowball Earth” theory?

The “Snowball Earth” theory proposes that the entire planet’s surface was covered in ice during ancient global glaciations, even at the equator. These events lasted for thousands or even millions of years and occurred at least twice during Earth’s history.

2. What role do asteroids play in Snowball Earth events?

A new study suggests that large asteroid impacts could have triggered Snowball Earth events. The researchers used a climate model to simulate the aftermath of hypothetical asteroid strikes and found that, under certain conditions, an asteroid strike could push the Earth into a Snowball state within just a decade.

3. How does an asteroid impact trigger a Snowball Earth event?

An asteroid impact can trigger a Snowball Earth event by rapidly cooling the Earth’s surface. The high reflectivity of snow and ice reflects sunlight back into space, causing the Earth’s temperature to drop further. This creates a runaway feedback loop, where more snow and ice accumulate, leading to even lower temperatures.

4. Are we at risk of a future Snowball Earth event?

The chances of an asteroid-induced Snowball Earth event in the future are unlikely, thanks to human-caused global warming. However, other impacts, such as a nuclear war, could have devastating consequences.

5. What are the implications of the new study?

The new study provides a plausible explanation for the cause of ancient Snowball Earth events. It highlights the potential role of extraterrestrial impacts in shaping our planet’s climate history. The study also reminds us of the importance of understanding the risks posed by asteroid impacts and other global catastrophes.

Links to additional Resources:

https://www.sciencedaily.com https://www.nature.com https://www.nasa.gov

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Snowball Earth, Asteroid impact, Neoproterozoic era

Snowball Earth
The Snowball Earth is a geohistorical hypothesis that proposes during one or more of Earth's icehouse climates, the planet's surface became entirely or nearly entirely frozen with no liquid oceanic or surface water exposed to the atmosphere. The most academically referred period of such global glaciation is believed to have...
Read more: Snowball Earth

Impact event
An impact event is a collision between astronomical objects causing measurable effects. Impact events have been found to regularly occur in planetary systems, though the most frequent involve asteroids, comets or meteoroids and have minimal effect. When large objects impact terrestrial planets such as the Earth, there can be significant...
Read more: Impact event

Neoproterozoic
The Neoproterozoic Era is the unit of geologic time from 1 billion to 538.8 million years ago. It is the last era of the Precambrian Supereon and the Proterozoic Eon; it is subdivided into the Tonian, Cryogenian, and Ediacaran periods. It is preceded by the Mesoproterozoic Era and succeeded by...
Read more: Neoproterozoic

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