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The asteroid that killed dinosaurs hit at worst possible angle, study finds

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Around 66 million years ago, an asteroid larger than Mt. Everest ripped through the atmosphere of Earth, striking our planet at the Yucatán Peninsula, on the southeastern coast of Mexico. This event set off fires around the globe, and the dust kicked into the air blocked out the Sun over large portions of the world. Soon, the era of dinosaurs, which lasted 175 million years, was snuffed out.

Simulations show the impactor struck Earth at an angle around 60 degrees to the surface of Earth. Striking at this angle, the asteroid kicked up the greatest possible amount of dust, maximizing climate change, killing off the clade of animals, as well as 75 percent of other species on Earth.

Dinosaurs watch as a massive asteroid burns up on its way to a fateful impact with Earth.
The impact that ended the age of dinosaurs kicked up vast quantities of sulfur and other materials into the atmosphere. Image credit: Chase Stone

The dust lifted into the atmosphere, including millions of tons of sulfur, blocked out the Sun, creating a “nuclear winter” worldwide.

“For the dinosaurs, the worst-case scenario is exactly what happened. The asteroid strike unleashed an incredible amount of climate-changing gases into the atmosphere, triggering a chain of events that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. This was likely worsened by the fact that it struck at one of the deadliest possible angles,” said Professor Gareth Collins of Imperial’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering, lead researcher on the study.

A steep price to pay  

Researchers developed the first-ever 3D computer simulations modeling the entire event from initial impact to the formation of the Chicxulub Crater which marks the spot where the asteroid hit Earth. The simulation examined the effects of an asteroid having a diameter of 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) traveling at 43,200 kilometers per hour (26,800 MPH).

The study found the asteroid came in from the northeast at a 60-degree angle, maximizing the amount of material thrown into the atmosphere. Following the impact, crustal material fell back into the initial crater, forming the geological feature we see today.

The computer simulation showing the beginning and end of impacts at 30 degrees (left) and 60 degrees (right). Image credit: Imperial College London

“We considered four impact trajectory angles, measured relative to the target surface: 90∘ (vertical), 60∘, 45∘ and 30∘. Simulations were performed at two impact speeds: 20 and 12 km/s. The slower speed was used for computational expediency and to afford direct comparison of the vertical impact case with previous 2D simulations. The higher impact speed is approximately the average speed that asteroids encounter Earth and is hence more representative of the likely impact speed of the Chicxulub impact,” researchers describe in an article announcing their findings, published in Nature Communications.

A look at what it would have been like to watch the Earth as the asteroid hit our planet, wiping out most lifeforms on the planet. Video credit: Science Channel

The Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) extinction event, also known as the Cretaceous–Tertiary (K–T) extinction, was first found to be the result of an asteroid strike when geologist Walter Alvarez found a thin layer of iridium around the world in the late 1970’s. This element is normally rare on Earth, but fairly common in asteroid, suggesting its extraterrestrial origin.

In the era leading up to the time of impact, massive volcanoes in the Deccan Traps in northwestern India were erupting, sending massive quantities of gas and dust into the atmosphere, greatly altering the climate of the planet.

Sulfur, and thanks for all the fish

Dinosaurs are extinct today because they lacked opposable thumbs and the brainpower to build a space program. ― Neil deGrasse Tyson

Geological examination of the Chicxulub Crater lent further evidence to findings made using the computer simulation. Central to this evidence was examination of a ring of mountains found inside the crater rim and dense, uplifted rock found 30 km (19 miles) beneath the surface of the crater. The simulation, when set to impact at 60 degrees, produced nearly identical features as those seen in the real world.

A gravity map, showing the density of rocks beneath the Chicxulub Crater. Image credit: Imperial College London

“Despite being buried beneath nearly a kilometre of sedimentary rocks, it is remarkable that geophysical data reveals so much about the crater structure — enough to describe the direction and angle of the impact,” Dr. Auriol Rae of the University of Freiburg stated.

The ground around the asteroid impact site is rich with water, as well as porous carbonate and evaporite rocks. The heat and diffusion of material would have sent massive quantities of water vapor, carbon dioxide, and sulfur into the atmosphere.

Once in the air, sulfur would form aerosols, minuscule particles capable of blocking sunlight, triggering the nuclear winter. A rapidly cooling climate and forest fires around the world, paired with the loss of photosynthesis feeding plants, resulted in the extinction of most of the life on Earth, researchers suggest.

Earlier studies only examined the earliest stages of the impact. This new study could help researchers better understand the nature of massive craters on other worlds.

This article was originally published on The Cosmic Companion by James Maynard, founder and publisher of The Cosmic Companion. He is a New England native turned desert rat in Tucson, where he lives with his lovely wife, Nicole, and Max the Cat. You can read this original piece here.

Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion is also available as a weekly podcast, carried on all major podcast providers. Tune in every Tuesday for updates on the latest astronomy news, and interviews with astronomers and other researchers working to uncover the nature of the Universe.

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Apple reportedly planning two MacBooks with ARM processors for 2020

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Prolific Apple analyst Ming Chi Kuo is at it again with another prediction on Cupertino’s upcoming products. Specifically, Kuo believes Apple is planning to launch a 13.3-inch MacBook Pro and a new MacBook Air with the newfangled chips as early as this year, as well as 14 and 16-inch Pros next year. In a research note, Kuo says(via MacRumors):

We predict that Apple will launch new MacBook models including the new 13.3-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌ equipped with the ‌Apple Silicon‌ in 4Q20, the new ‌MacBook Air‌ equipped with the ‌Apple Silicon‌ in 4Q20 or 1Q21, and new 14- and 16-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌ models equipped with the ‌Apple Silicon‌ and all-new form factor design in late 2Q21 or 3Q21.

Apple is also rumored to announce a redesigned iMac with a design more akin to the iPad Pro this year, although it probably won’t feature an ARM processor in 2020.

The company has developed an expertise in ARM processors since the inception of the iPhone, launching devices with processors that are often a generation ahead of competitors in performance while being more efficient to boot. At WWDC, the company claimed its silicon will both be more powerful and use less power than existing desktop processors, although the announcement was light on specifics.

Developers were offered a new Mac Mini featuring an A12Z Bionic process — essentially a tweaked iPad Pro chip — after WWDC. While we may see that chip in the new MacBook Air, being Apple’s entry-level laptop, we expect to see a big leap in performance on the new MacBook Pros, as those will have to compete with the existing Intel Models.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say — we’ll (hopefully) find out more later this year.

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Published July 10, 2020 — 19:05 UTC

Napier Lopez

Napier Lopez

July 10, 2020 — 19:05 UTC

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Far Cry 6 details leak, and our fingers are crossed for a female protagonist

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Ubisoft was apparently planning to reveal a new Far Cry game at its weekend E3 replacement event. Today, a leak gave away most of the major details about the game, including a look at the main villain. Ubisoft has also confirmed we’ll be seeing the game at the show.

Anton would not be pleased. See you on Sunday at #UbiForward. pic.twitter.com/HieToJzDxp

— Far Cry (@FarCrygame) July 10, 2020

We already suspected there was going to be a Far Cry game at this weekend’s event. Ubisoft allegedly has five games coming out this fiscal year — we could already account for Watch Dogs LegionAssassin’s Creed ValhallaRainbow Six: Quarantine, and Gods & Monsters. All we knew about the fifth game was that it was allegedly a new release in one of Ubisoft‘s major franchises. Far Cry is really the only other big series Ubisoft has that’s not already represented on that list. So here you go: Far Cry 6.

Far Cry 6 page just show up on PS HK Store. 🧐 pic.twitter.com/LXZ1EhGykG

— anjohn0422 (@anjohn0422) July 10, 2020

The game’s cover image and details leaked via the PlayStation Store, where a listing for the game appeared, presumably a few days ahead of schedule. The description that accompanied the picture describes the game thus:

Welcome to Yara, a tropical paradise frozen in time. As the dictator of Yara, Anton Castillo is intent on restoring his nation back to its former glory by any means, with his son, Diego, following in his bloody footsteps. Their ruthless oppression has ignited a revolution… Play as Dani Rojas, a local Yaran and become a guerrilla fighter to liberate the nation…

Wow, that sounds like it could almost be a description of a Just Cause game. When does Rico Fucking Rodriguez (yes, that’s his full legal name) show up with the hookshot to help Dani out?

Read: Microsoft may get Mortal Kombat and LEGO if it buys WB Games

All that said, I’m pleased that the player character will actually be a character this time around. After Far Cry 5 and New Dawn hamstrung their villains by making them menace faceless, mute player characters, we might finally get to see some more of that fun hero/villain interaction that makes Far Cry games so memorable. Also, with a name like Dani Rojas, I think there’s a good chance the hero could be a woman or at least have a selectable gender. I sure hope Dani’s a woman — it’d certainly add a new spin to things.

The other thing you’ll probably have already noticed is who they’ve cast as Anton Castillo: Emmy nominee Giancarlo Esposito. Ordinarily I’m not a fan of game characters made the face and voice of a well-known actor — the ability to unbind characters from what their actors look like is one of the things I love about games (and animation). In my humble opinion no game has thus far benefited from the inclusion of such an actor’s conspicuous presence, though I’m willing to revisit that when Cyberpunk 2077 comes out and we can see how much of that game actually features Keanu Reeves. That said, I’m willing to let the man who played Gus Fring have his shot at playing a great game villain, so we’ll have to see if he changes my mind.

Expect to see the game officially unveiled at Ubisoft‘s show this Sunday. If the PlayStation Store leak is accurate, it’ll be released on February 18, 2021.

Read next:

Apple reportedly planning two MacBooks with ARM processors for 2020

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Holy Sheet: Apply Einstein’s ‘8th wonder of the world’ to your money in Google Sheets

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“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it earns it… he who doesn’t… pays it,” Albert Einstein once said. For those who aren’t financial gurus, allow me to put this quote in layman’s terms: everyone who’s able to save up a little, and is patient enough, can get wealthy. It’s not how celebrities get rich, it’s how the millionaire next door gets born.

So how does it work?

To become this achievable millionaire next door, you don’t have to win the lottery, or have an IQ as high as Einstein’s. All you have to understand is one investment concept called compound interest, and of course make it work for you.

It works as follows. Say you invest $1000 in the broader market, using a relatively low-risk index fund (a basket of a broad range of stocks) such as the S&P 500 or an even more diversified total world stock market index fund, and you gain 8% in a year on capital gains and dividends (sort of the average annual return). After a year, your capital has grown from $1000 to $1080. Your profit is $80 after the first year.

Now let’s say you choose to keep the $1080 invested (including reinvesting the dividends). After the second year the $1080 grows another 8% (again, this is hypothetical, as the annual return fluctuates) to $1166.40, meaning your annual profit has gone up from $80 to $86.40.

Your money is growing faster because you’re not just growing your principal of $1000, but also last year’s earned interest of $80. You’re making interest on interest, in other words compound interest. On average your yearly earnings will grow, just by keeping it invested, and thus making it work for you.

How can we simulate this?

The main ingredients for generating compound interest are:

  • Investing money, preferably adding a steady amount each month. This is called dollar-cost averaging, and prevents you from going all in at the wrong time (i.e. the market’s low).
  • Time, lots of time, for your money to grow by reaping the benefits of compound interest generated by the market. You’re aiming for the so-called hockey stick effect to kick in, which means the longer you let your money work, the faster it rises.
Hockey stick effect for doubling your money each year, on a $10,000 principal

That’s all there is to it. So you’re probably wondering what would happen if you actually put aside say $500 a month for say 30 years, while the market’s 8% average return would continue to occur. Well, we’ve created a template for you just for that.

All you have to do is head over to the Google Sheet document, make a copy of it for yourself by heading to the menu and hitting File -> Make a copy. Then, change the main parameters on the right under ‘Capital already invested’ if you already have money invested in the market, ‘Extra savings invested per month’, and optionally tweak the ‘Average monthly return’ to increase the annual return (in red) if you expect a lower or higher annual return than 8%.

So there you have it. Money doesn’t necessarily just have to be for the few, as long as you have patience and perseverance.

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