In the mid-80s, when a group of US archaeologists looked at satellite images showing the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, they did not know how to interpret an image that unfolded them completely: an almost perfect ring, about 200 kilometers wide
The kerosene, which is a reservoir with blue wells, is a key element of the Yucatan tourist brochures and is repeated in this desolate landscape opening its way through the vast plains of Yucatan, a dry and low-lying state in the extreme east of Mexico.
Archaeologists have discovered these deep holes surrounding the capital of Yucatan, Porta and the port cities of Sisal and Progresus, almost unexpectedly, while trying to figure out what had happened to the Mayan civilization that once ruled the peninsula.
The Mayans used the cages as a form of drinking water supply, but the strange circular layout of the holes that could be seen in the satellite images burned their colleagues during the Selper conference held in Acapulco, Mexico in 1988.
— An unexpected affair —
For a scientist in the public, Adriana Ocampo, then a young planetary geologist at NASA, the circular formation seemed to be pointing to the research line he had devoted much of his career to.
"I just saw the slides, I said to myself," Aha, that's a great thing! I was very excited, but I stayed quiet because you obviously do not know until you have more proof. "
Approaching the scientists, striking the heart, Ocampo asked if they had considered an adverse asteroid, a giant and violent enough to mean the planet with forms that continue to unfold 66 million years later.
"They did not even know what he was talking about!" She laughs to remember it three decades later.
This informal speech by Ocampo with the scientists at this conference was the beginning of a scientific correspondence that would lay the foundation for which most scientists believe it is true today: that this ring corresponds to the edge of the crater caused a 12-kilometer-long asteroid that hit the Yucatan and exploded with incredible power that turned the earth into water.
Since the early 1990s, teams of scientists from America, Europe and Asia have worked to complete research on the remaining loose ends.
Now they think the impact almost instantly caused a 30km crater, creating for a moment a mountain twice as high on Mount Everest.
In the years that followed the impact, the world would change radically with a huge ash cloud blocking the sky and creating a lasting night for just over a year, reducing temperatures to zero and killing about 75% of living beings on the face of the Earth, including dinosaurs.
— The Most Deadly Place on Earth —
Today, the central spot of the effect, where the mountain once grew up is a small town called Chicxulub Puerto.
When I visited this city, with only a few thousand inhabitants, I saw it consist of low-rise houses with yellow, white, orange and ocher that surround a small urban square common to many other cities in Yucatan.
The city has no publicity, so often the few dinosaur lovers trying to worship through the distant streets of this Mexican state end up being lost to another nearby town called Chicxulub Pueblo, half an hour by car.
But even if they reach the right town, located 7 kilometers east of the white sand of the popular Progreso resort, there is little evidence that this was the scene of one of the most catastrophic moments of the last 100 million years
If you walk into the central square, you will see dinosaur paintings that have drawn the city's children. But the only monument with references to its prehistoric past is a kind of dinosaur bone with a specific childhood air and concrete that is placed on an altar with dinosaur artifacts.
Until Ocampo's findings in 1991 were published, this area of Yucatan had been the subject of minimal international interest. Today, there is a museum inaugurated in September 2018 between Chicxulub Puerto and Yucatán's capital of Merida, 45 km south.
"Chicxulub Puerto and its environment deserve to be best known all over the world," says Ocampo, who was born in Colombia but moved as a child to Argentina and arrived in the United States at the age of 15.
The asteroid, though causing disasters in the areas, has benefited a species above everything else: humans, millions of years later, as they evolved thanks to the destruction of the world's greatest predators.
Without these impacts, humanity could hardly ever exist.
"It has given us an advantage to be able to compete and prosper, as we have done," says the scientist.
— A basic lesson —
The discovery of Ocampo came after over a decade of research into the effects of asteroids, but the key to understanding what those holes could mean on earth was his work with a legendary figure in space science, Eugene Shoemaker.
Shoemaker, the pioneering American geologist, who is known as one of the founders of the planet's field of science, remains 21 years after his death, the only man whose ashes are buried on the moon.
It was he who had suggested to Ocampo that it is unlikely that almost perfect circles were the result of other land forces other than asteroids, and that this hypothesis could provide clues to the geological development of the Earth.
The idea that a giant asteroid had destroyed the dinosaurs was proposed by Californians Luis and Valter Alvarez, father and son in the early 80's of the last century. "But at that moment it was extremely controversial," says Ocampo.
But he managed to place one of the final pieces of the puzzle that began to connect scattered ideas among the different scientists who worked independently with information.
The first person to link the Yucatan ring to Alvarez's asteroid theory was Texas Byron, who wrote an article about Houston Chronicle in 1981 with the question of whether the two phenomena could be linked.
Later, Byars shared his theory with a student named Alan Hildebrand, who later approached Penfield after examining some rocks in Haiti, and they felt that the crater was not a volcano but a star asteroid.
"[Byars] He takes the belief that he is the first to put the pieces together, a journalist! "Ocampo recalls." It's an incredible story when all the pieces meet. "
Lessons learned from the Mexican crater reported valuable information on NASA's space craft, which landed on Mars in 2012 and spent the last six years exploring Mars' environment and geology.
The debris discovered by the effects of asteroids on Mars compared to those found in Chicxulub show similarities that indicate that Mars should have a much thicker atmosphere than now, one that is closest to Earth today and that allows life on our planet.
"It is important to know what was going on in the past to prepare for the future," says Ocampo. "It gives us a really good picture of what happened in Mars's geological evolution."
— Ignoring a single phenomenon —
Many of the mysteries of the Chicxulub crater still remain underground and the authenticity of its existence is hardly known by its inhabitants or by those who visit the city despite the fact that it opened the museum.
Mexico has requested that the crater be recognized by Unesco. There is very little that visitors can see, since the impact was long ago.
Tourists visiting one of the few remaining remains, stunning canyons, where you can swim between the fish and tree bursts, will ignore that these geological features only exist because their soft limestone is being forced into surface from the underground due to the impact of a giant asteroid.
"They [la gente y las autoridades locales] trying to make people more aware of this unique phenomenon, "says Ocampo, who is also a pioneer of global science education in Latin America.
"It is a unique place on our planet, it is truly and must be preserved as a World Heritage Site".
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