How will the public know when scientists have determined which scenario is right? Keller had vowed not to return to India after the food-poisoning debacle. Ultimately, consensus may be the wrong goal. Some scientists have attempted to find a middle ground between the two camps. Eddy licked a rock, to determine whether it was clay.
Keller fears that we are filling our environment with the same ingredients—sulfur, carbon dioxide, mercury, and more—that killed the dinosaurs and that, left unchecked, will catalyze another mass extinction, this one of our own devising. She argues that the mass extinction was caused not by a wrong-place-wrong-time asteroid collision but by a series of colossal volcanic eruptions in a part of western India known as the Deccan Traps—a theory that was first proposed in and then abandoned by all but a small number of scientists. Landmasses that had spent millions of years knotted together into the supercontinent of Pangaea began to drift apart, and oceans—teeming with sponges, sharks, snails, corals, and crocodiles—flooded into the space between them. When it finished, 96 percent of all species had vanished. As the five-hour drive to our hotel in rural India turned into 12 after a stop to gather rock samples, Keller aired a long list of grievances. The editor denied any favoritism. Keller eventually made her way to Asia, then arrived in California with plans to continue to South America. In the years since, impacters say they have come even closer to total certainty. None appeared to have been triggered by an impact, although numerous other asteroids have pummeled our planet over the millennia. On this excursion, Keller hoped to gather samples that would allow her to create a detailed timeline of Deccan activity in the , years leading up to the extinction. Keller planned to spend a week gathering rocks in two different regions of India, beginning with the area around Basar, a dusty village of 5, in the center of the country. In , she joined the faculty at Princeton, where she is currently one of two tenured women in the geosciences department. Big rock from sky hits the dinosaurs, and boom they go. Is the Dinosaur-Apocalypse Story Wrong? Shortly afterward, Keller received a visit from a priest: But not by everyone. Countless species are endangered and staring down extinction—much like the gradual, then rapid, downfall of the forams. And the only way to find out is really to study the history. The fifth extinction, the one that doomed the dinosaurs, occurred just as one of the largest volcanoes in history seethed in the Deccan Traps. Her teacher, concerned by these delusions of grandeur, called in a Jungian psychologist to administer a Rorschach test and remind Keller that the daughter of such a poor family should aspire to less. She continued her trek around the globe: A priest came to administer last rites and, as Keller hovered in and out of consciousness, commanded her to confess her sins. The researchers came back exactly split. Younger scientists avoided the topic, fearing that they might jeopardize their careers. Based on similar results from Haiti, Texas, and elsewhere in Mexico, Keller concluded that the asteroid had hit , years before the extinction—far too early to have caused it.
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