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We’ve all heard the story of what happened on the day the dinosaurs died, right? Well, we thought we had. Turns out, high-powered ballistics experiments, fancy computer algorithms, and good old-fashioned ancient geology have given us a shocking new version of the events on that day, 66 million years ago. It’s a new theory that is so scarily precise -- and hot -- it’s terrifying and nearly unimaginable.



Kirk R. Johnson, Jay Melosh, Douglas Robertson, Pete Schultz and Molly Webster

Comments [30]

I love your show and always learn a lot. I understand that this is one theory while listening, but as I listened, I was waiting to hear the very important fact that the large land masses that we now call continents, were still attached according to the Continental Drift Theory, which is named Pangaea and/or Supercontinent. This knowledge helps me understand how the impact of an asteroid could affect the animals that lived within the Mesozoic Era because the heat and consequential gases were centralized to the land and not exposed to large masses of water, where the energy could evolve into different forms- like tropical storms/hurricanes.
Thank you for all of your efforts to expose us to different theories with the wonderful auditory 'visuals'.

Jan. 01 2017 11:55 PM
Jim from Greenbelt, MD

Here is an AJP paper (sorry, only have the abstract) that pushes back on the level of radiant energy deposited at the ground, The article includes several references to the original literature.

Peer-reviewed publications of the wild fire theory include:
Douglas Robertson, who was on show, is the first author.
H.J. Melosh, also on the show, is the first author

FYI, If you're looking for scholarly articles, it helps to start with Google Scholar.

Jan. 01 2017 03:03 PM
John of WDC

Examination of almost any of the 'facts' given in this entertaining show, will let you recognize some of the inconsistencies in the fanciful & uncritical presentation of this interesting notion/perspective. (ie: 1" KT layer => 300 years, or anyone who has swum in the rain knows the vertical ejectum (rising drop from a falling drop is not disbursed, & even if it did disburse from internal pressure, most of the falling particle heat would radiate away from the earth). As always, enjoy & inquire.

Jan. 01 2017 01:58 PM
Dorothy from Las Vegas

Has anyone considered that there was a flood 4,000 years ago? It also left deep cracks 300 feet deep in the earth filled with bones of all kinds of animals.

Also the physical evidence that man and dinosaur tracks are right next to each other in Texas and several other places.

Plus, the layers of earth are not uniform all over the earth. They were turned upside down and topsy turvy because of this flood.

Read my book, Truth 101.

Dec. 31 2016 03:39 PM
David F from Boston, MA

This little statement they made got me...
Molly Webster and Kirk Johnson are out digging looking for the KT boundary.
About 33+ minutes in they say:
For every three feet you dig down you go back in time ten thousand years.
They dig down to about 66.09 million years...

So 66.09 million divided by 10,000 times 3...
So I guess they dug down 19,827 feet or 3.76 miles.

I sure hope they didn't have to use hand shovels.

Feb. 08 2016 01:50 AM
Joel Rubinstein

It is irresponsible to present this 1200-degrees-for-a-couple-of-hours theory without a reply from a mainstream scientist to discuss numerous problems with the theory and why it's more likely that the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event had a duration of several years to tens of thousands of years, not hours.

Dec. 21 2015 09:43 PM

classic Radiolab. pushing a fringe theory as accepted dogma. 2 minutes fact-checking and it all falls apart. I don't trust anything I hear on this show anymore.

Dec. 20 2015 11:20 PM
Michael Hammerschlag from Ukraine

In 1989 spent 3 idyllic months in the Yucatan, scuba diving, and hanging out in Mayan temples- just as I returned the news broke about the Chixulub crater (110 miles diameter, just 5-10 miles offshore, so half land, half in water). Man, I forgot to go back to check out that area when I returned- must be rock artifacts.

In high-speed flash photography (anyone can do it- fastest electronic flash is ~1/50,000 second) of firecracker-exploding light bulbs in my studio, also explored the impact of simple milk droplets in a bowl, which all show the same characteristics of massive meteoric impact, since the ground liquefies. The central spike rebound, the collar and crown rebound- all very very cool, uniform, and beautiful.

Hmmm, the heat eh, not the global winter- well I came up with a similar heating for worldwide nuclear war (but much less). You have to add the ignition of EVERYTHING burnable in the world, as it all went up in a funeral pyre; even gaseous heat-releasing reactions in the atmosphere. Really hot topic. But after 50 years? the cold and dark would set it.

See TOBA volcano (~71,000 BCE) in Indonesia (same place as tsunami + Krakatoa) which almost wiped out man on Earth, except for a few San men (Bushmen) in the Kalihari. All Homo Sapien males were dated to 69,000 years, so all men date back to those infinitely tough little men that can run 40 miles barefoot. According to the climate records (which I've studied in enormous detail for AGW articles), it caused about 2000 year deep freeze at the height (depth) of the last Ice Age.

Dec. 20 2015 12:49 PM
Michael Hammerschlag from Kharkiv

Where's the dam videos you are talking about- very frustrating. I'm in Ukraine where there's a 15 mile crater (Kirovograd) from 65 million years ago- they say it's a few hundred thousand years different date.. but I believe they have to be related. You have any science on that?

All very very cool- I did this exact same compilation of the sequential effects in big articles on nuclear war.

Dec. 20 2015 12:23 PM
Kristen from California

I had listened to this and there was a part in which they read a reading from a scientist names Isley or something. I wanted to look it up and re-read it. Does anyone remember what I am talking about?

Oct. 05 2015 04:14 PM
Kyle O. from Toronto

Does anyone know who designed the background music and where I fan find it?

Feb. 01 2015 01:28 AM
Arthur B Kells from Florida

It is very cool how scientists use strange details such as pollen in flowers to predict when meteors caused an entire species to go extinct. Although nothing can be certain, there seems to be a lot of evidence gather in regards to how dinosaurs have gone extinct, which is certainly an interesting topic. I hope after more scientific improvements we can learn more about our planets past.

Oct. 20 2014 11:01 PM
Jonathan Braidman from Oakland, CA

Fascinating show, loved every minute of it! However, when one tries to find scientific research on the net to back up the "oven" theory of extinction, not much comes up. Your own website lacks links to primary sources. Is there a place we can go to learn more?
Thank you,

Jul. 31 2014 04:47 PM
Gil Gerretsen from Greenville, SC

Immanuel Velikovsky (a friend of Albert Einstein) laid out the foundation of this model way back in the mid-1950's. His book "Earth In Upheaval" is a must read and was on Einstein's desk when he died.

May. 16 2014 03:33 PM
Julian Johncraft from Atlanta

Isn't the impact crater in the Yucatan? half in and half out of the Gulf Of Mexico? and still known as Chicxulub?

May. 11 2014 11:56 PM
Tommy from near the crater

Good theory. This helps explain some nagging issues with the asteroid hypothesis. The mechinism for survival of burrowing mamals, reptiles, and flora is intriguing and is a good fit for what we know survived.

Mar. 30 2014 05:32 PM
Timmo from Wisconsin

Caught parts of this show today. Interesting but I don't buy all of it. If this strike , and the resulting fallout / super heating all happened in only a 2 hour time span, I would expect only a little over half the planet to receive the direct effect.

Mar. 29 2014 06:24 PM
bernard deters

Geez, didn't you watch Fantasia. The raindrop sequence is exactly what you described in metal ball in sand. You probably should watch it again and realize 'ya coulda done better if you'd resolved your anal-cranial syndrome.It's my opinion.

Mar. 29 2014 06:05 PM
Boni from Wisconsin

You might also be interested in the book, T-Rex and the Crater of Doom, by Walter Alverez. It's kind of a flamboyant title for a book that meticulously follows the story of the search for the crater.

Mar. 29 2014 04:40 PM
Dan Waltrip from Vero Beach, Fl

Listening to this now on NPR and it's really cool, love the atmospheric music and how well put together the whole thing is.

Mar. 29 2014 12:32 PM
Ben Faulkner

Fascinating take, but what about the other terrestrial organisms that survived? Dinosaurs definitely did NOT all die out during the K-Pg event because birds are just a group of theropod dinosaurs. There were also mammals, crocodiles, etc that made it. How could they escape temperatures so all-consuming?

Mar. 17 2014 02:20 PM
Jim Mica from Ihaca, NY

This was a ripping good podcast, I wish I could have seen you live.

Can you give us some links to papers discussing this new interpretation/analysis of the dinosaurian end-game?

My wife and I listened to most of the presentation and were very, very interested by it.

You site a number on experts on the subject, where can we read more to answer the questions (EG, why wasn't all plant life cooked --ginko trees are still around) generated by the theories being discussed.

Thank you

Jan. 13 2014 01:48 PM
Tom Fleischer from Philadelphia, PA

Such an interesting show. Quick question on the theory. If the temperature on the entire surface was raised to 1200 degrees, why do we still have plants such as conifers and ginkgoes? How did they survive through those temperatures?

Jan. 12 2014 03:00 PM
Al from Mars

Gary from Wisconsin,

It's off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, and since it's been underwater for more than 60 million years, it's pretty hard to spot.

It's still there, just a LOT shallower.

Jan. 06 2014 06:28 PM
Matt Wood from Commerce, TX

Very interesting show. Thanks as always. I Just did a very quick check calculation, and if we assume that the asteroid carried the 100 million megatons (equals 4x10^23 Joules), and use that the heat capacity of the entire atmosphere is 5x10^21 J/K, then if all that energy were deposited uniformly in the atmosphere, then it should raise the temperature by ~100 K. This is at least of the right order of magnitude. Also since the energy would presumably be deposited mostly at higher altitudes with lower total heat capacity, the temps discussed in the piece are possible, it seems. Really intriguing idea - thanks for broadcasting it.

Matt A. Wood, Dept Head
Texas A&M University-Commerce
Commerce, TX 75401

Jan. 02 2014 03:58 PM
Scott from Silicon Valley, CA

Love your show. Saw a card with this alternate explanation of the dinopocalypse: Thought you should know...

Dec. 23 2013 02:27 AM
Gary from Wisconsin

I apologize if i missed this but if an asteroid the size of Manhattan hit earth and the resulting impact caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, where is the crater? As far as i can remember this was not address in this radiolab story.

Dec. 21 2013 09:58 PM

Don't we know that birds at least evolved from dinosaurs, if not that they actually *are* dinosaurs? So, an asteroid that cooked the earth had at least a few survivors of each of the animal and plant kingdoms we currently know and love, let alone the ocean dwelling creatures. I can ascribe to a theory that anything larger than a breadbox cooked, but several times it was stated that "nothing" made it which we absolutely know not to be true.

Dec. 17 2013 01:36 PM
Michel X.

Awesome show, but I want to register some confusion re: the pizza oven claim (even though it's a really cool thought). I was under the impression that it was widely agreed (setting aside relatively new finds that may or may not cast some doubt on the impact theory) that the KT extinction wiped out *non-avian* dinosaurs. If the pizza oven claim is true, shouldn't it have done for the avian dinosaurs, the mammals, and the insects too? From what I gather, the fossil evidence definitely doesn't support *that* kind of claim.

Or did I miss something?

Dec. 12 2013 06:40 PM
A. Torp

The expert in this episode apparently needs to keep up with his asteroid news. As of 2011, it seems that a piece of the asteroid Baptistina is no longer considered a suspect in the untimely demise of the dinosaurs. The asteroid broke up later than previously assumed, too late to be the source of the dino-killing rock. The case is still open...

This according to NASA:

Dec. 11 2013 10:02 PM

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