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College of Alameda Students Assisting in Research Study with UC Berkeley of Possible Ancient Asteroid Collision on Earth

20 February 2013

College of Alameda

Did a large asteroid collide with Earth 66 million years ago? College of Alameda chemistry students Jon Howell, Jessica Ng and Jenna Luckhardt are helping COA chemistry professor Peter Olds elucidate the nature of this possible ancient impact by working on KT Boundary Impact Rocks at UC Berkeley lab.

Scientists are currently trying to determine if a large asteroid or comet collided with the Earth 66 million years ago, probably causing the demise of the non-avian dinosaurs and 75% of animal and plant species. This catastrophic disruption is known as the Cretaceous-Tertiary or KT impact event. Scientists study this KT event by separating and identifying small grains of the mineral chromite, which were deposited with the impact layer 66 million years ago in southern Colorado and eastern Wyoming. It is not known yet whether these grains are from the terrestrial target rocks or from the extraterrestrial impacting object. Chemistry and mineralogy tests, like the ones these CoA students are conducting, will provide the answer.

“If the grains are terrestrial then the consensus view that the Chicxulub crater on the Yucatan Peninsula is the only KT boundary impact site will be thrown into doubt”, says COA chemistry professor Peter Olds. “If the grains are extraterrestrial, science may be able to identify the type of object (class of meteorite) that hit. Whatever the answer, it will be new and exciting,” added Olds.

This research is currently being carried out at the Earth and Planetary Science Department at UC Berkeley where at least one of these College of Alameda students plans to transfer.

“With sufficient funds and allocation of space, this project could be expanded into a rock chemistry program at The Peralta Colleges’ 860 Atlantic science facility,” said College of Alameda President, Jannett Jackson, “allowing a much greater number of COA science students to benefit from the experience.”

Faculty and administrators within the Peralta Community College District – which also includes Berkeley City College and Laney and Merritt Colleges in Oakland – believe that lab experience, as well as lab safety skills, gained in such an environment are transferable to other scientific disciplines. A job well done in this research study may result in student transfer to quality four-year academic institutions like UC Berkeley or opportunities for employment as a laboratory technician in the private or government sectors. “This is a wonderful educational opportunity for current and future students at The Peralta Colleges,” said president Jackson.

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