Glass bits, charcoal hint at 56-million-year-old space rock impact | Science News

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Glass bits, charcoal hint at 56-million-year-old space rock impact

Timing coincides with period of rapid warming perhaps sparked by comet

5:31pm, September 28, 2016

BURNING UP  Bits of microscopic charcoal such as this were found along the U.S. Atlantic coast and imaged by an electron microscope. The presence of charcoal supports the idea that a large space rock hit Earth around 56 million years ago near the start of a bout of rapid warming, triggering wildfires.

DENVER — A period of skyrocketing global temperatures started with a bang, new research suggests.

Impact debris and evidence of widespread wildfires around eastern North America suggest that a large space rock whacked Earth around 56 million years ago at the beginning of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, also known as the PETM, a period of rapid warming and huge increases in carbon dioxide. The event is one of the closest historic analogs to modern global warming and is used to improve predictions of how Earth’s climate and ecosystems will fare in the coming decades.

Too little is known about the newfound impact to guess its origin, size or effect on the global climate, said geochemist Morgan Schaller of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. But it fits in with the long-standing

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