Shades of Dante's Inferno
The K/T impact turned the Earth's surface into a living hell, a dark, burning, sulfurous world where all the rules governing survival of the fittest changed in minutes. Alan Hildebrand
The idea of an extraterrestrial impact causing extinction at the K/T boundary and possibly at other times during Earth history has become the darling of the media. It is a simple event. It evokes terror. It can happen again at any time. These are the bits of ideas that do well as sound bites and make spectacular reconstructions for the news. Such simplifications, however, do not do justice to the wealth of data that scientists have accumulated, both pro and con, about impacts. But the media are not alone in their oversimplifications and sensationalism. The introductory quote is not from a tabloid TV show; it is the main conclusion of a review article by a well-respected impact proponent, Alan Hildebrand ( 1993:112). Thus the task of sorting hoopla from evidence about impacts (and volcanic eruptions) and possible effects becomes all the more difficult.
Present research on a possible K/T impact dates only from 1980, with the seminal paper in Science by the late Nobel laureate physicist Luis Alvarez, his geologist son Walter, and two nuclear chemist colleagues, Frank Asaro and Helen Michel. The argument that impacts might cause extinction, however, dates to at least the mid-eighteenth century, according to Hildebrand ( 1993).