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Symptoms of (de)Extinction
The symptoms are everywhere, although who would recognize them? Lacking fever or obvious rash, the landscape looks very much as it usually does, just more so: Some buildings where perhaps there were woods; fewer birds or insects of certain kinds, but who is counting.
Time is long, life is short, and things are many, so it isn't easy to feel convinced that we are in the midst of the sixth great extinction on the history of our planet. A blinding flash of light in the sky, shattering boom, and deep impact - that is another story. That is the story of a crater and its meteorite, the story of a sudden event.
Sixty-six million years ago over 50% of all life on the planet went extinct because of an 11-mile wide meteorite that struck the Earth off the coast of what is now the Yucatán peninsula along the Gulf of Mexico. That impact left a impression: a hole, the Chicxulub crater, that is some 60 to100 miles wide and created by a force equivalent of one billion atomic bombs set off simultaneously. Once I visited the around the Mexican city of Merida to see the Chichén Itzá ruins – did the Maya know they built their temples inside the crater of a cataclysmic impact? The symptoms are everywhere, that’s why they are so hard to see.
In the so-called Anthropocene there is a lot of doom and gloom. It's the slow violence rather than the instantaneous that we are so worried (or not so worried) about. But what if an enormous rock were to strike today, one of those over 10,000 “near Earth objects” whose orbits pass so very close to us? It might be symptomatic of planetary scale extinction, but certainly a kind of de-extinction as well. New forms emerge where the old ones disappeared. At this moment scientists are undertaking a new study and drilling into the Chicxulub crater to learn more about what happened after the last big hit. They want to know if that crater became a unique “cradle of life” in which new species emerged in the shallow seascape it created in the impact’s wake.
Early, early on meteorites carried (and still carry) amino acids and other organic molecules essential or the formation of life to Earth, and no doubt to other planets as well. What’s more, almost all the water on our planet - ocean to iceberg - is thought to have been carried on meteorites onto this rocky place we’ve come to call mom, mother Earth. Alas, not just the ingredients, but the aqueous medium of life itself has come by way of violent, extra-terrestrial couriers.
Not in my back yard (one might hope) but really, it has already happened. Collision and revision; getting dug out of a hole or getting buried in one; it’s OK, there might not be much of a difference.
Ceramic meteorite Installed as part of NIMBY at 2633 N Emmett Chicago.
The accompanying essay for the installation (excerpt)