Scientists are making preparations for their drilling expedition at the Chicxulub crater, which is believed to be the impact site of the asteroid that collided with Earth approximately 66 million years ago, killing off the dinosaurs. The project will involve the installation of a platform in the Gulf of Mexico, with drilling set to commence in April and continue for two months.
The expedition will conduct extractions from the earth at depths of nearly 5,000 feet under the seabed, during which the team will take a series of incremental samples in order to spot any changes in rock types, create a microfossil catalogue and collect DNA samples.
"We expect to see a period of no life initially, and then life returning and getting more diverse through time," said Sean Gulick, one of the team's lead researchers. This is due to the belief that the impact wiped out around 90 percent of living things off of the earth.
Of particular interest to the research team is the ring of rocks that circle the middle of the crater. Scientists believe that this ring was created within the first minutes following the asteroid's impact, making it the only preserved example of its kind on Earth. Other similar craters, including the 2-billion-year-old Vredefort crater in South Africa and the 1.8-billion-year-old crater in Sudbury, Canada, are also believed to have had such rings before their eroded away over time.
"What are the peaks made of? And what can they tell us about the fundamental processes of impacts, which is this dominant planetary resurfacing phenomena?" Gulick said.
Gulick and his team will also be looking for any sort of evidence that sheds light on ancient organisms.
"The sediments that filled in the [crater] should have the record for organisms living on the sea floor and in the water that were there for the first recovery after the mass extinction event," he said. "The hope is we can watch life come back."
The project, which will be sponsored by the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), will cost approximately $10 million and will mark the first time that an attempt has been made to gather samples from the crater through offshore drilling.