Comet Created Tiny Diamonds and Killed the Woolly Mammoth - NBC Southern California

Comet Created Tiny Diamonds and Killed the Woolly Mammoth

UCSB professor's study shows evidence of impact causing mass extinction



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    If you ever wonder what killed woolly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers, diamonds may hold the answer.

    Nanodiamonds, tiny diamond fragments, were found in an ice sheet in Greenland, and researchers at UC Santa Barbara believe that they were caused by a “cosmic impact,” of a comet hitting the earth. Besides creating tiny diamonds, the impact may have also cause a mass extinction of species 13,000 years ago.

    The study, published in a recent volume of the Journal of Glaciology, was a collaborative project among 21 scientists including UCSB Earth Science professor and co-author James Kennett.

    Kennett firmly believes that this solidifies evidence that a comet impact about 13,000 years ago explains the disappearance of the Clovis culture, one of the earliest human cultures in North America, and large mammals including the mammoth and saber-toothed cats.

    "There is a layer in the ice with a great abundance of diamonds," said Kennett in a press release. "Most exciting to us is that this is the first layer of diamonds ever found in glacial ice anywhere on Earth. The diamonds are so tiny that they can only be observed with special, highly magnifying microscopes. They number in the trillions."

    This study fuels the heated debate that scientists have been having about diamonds, comets and mammoths since last year. In 2009, Kennett discovered similar nanodiamonds on Santa Rosa Island, off the coast of Santa Barbara that first suggested that a comet impact caused extinction.

    This sparked a debate from other scientists, who disputed that an impact could create shock waves powerful enough to turn rocks into diamonds and trigger the mini-Ice Age that killed the mammoths and other large mammals. Some were also unconvinced that the researchers even found diamonds at all, although three separate labs confirmed their composition. Other research studies were published with results that contradicted Kennett’s conclusions.

    Sticking to his guns, Kennett forged on and with the international team of scientists, his study could lead to more definitive answers about a highly debated area of Earth’s history.