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How a ring of mountains forms inside a crater

Rocks drilled from Mexico’s Chicxulub impact confirm dynamic collapse theory

2:00pm, November 17, 2016
Chicxulub illustration

RINGING TRUE  A ring of mountains (inner circle) inside large impact craters, such as the one left by the famous dinosaur-killer at Chicxulub (illustrated above), form when rocks from deep underground rebound upward and collapse outward following the impact, new research suggests. The outer ring is the crater edge.

Building mountains in minutes requires deep rocks and a big bang.

Rings of mountainous peaks sit inside large impact craters, but scientists weren’t sure how these features formed. One explanation proposed that these mountains form from deep rocks jolted to the surface by the impact. Another theory suggested that uplift caused surface rocks to congregate in heaps around the crater.

Rocks extracted from ground zero of the impact that devastated the dinosaurs have now resolved this debate. That crater’s peak ring is made up of deep rocks, researchers report in the Nov. 18 Science.

Confirming this explanation of peak ring formation will help scientists study the depths of other planets, says study coauthor Sean Gulick, a geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin. It will also help better estimate the environmental damage wrought by the dinosaur-killing impact.

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