Night Comes to the Cretaceous: Comets, Craters, Controversy, and the Last Days of the Dinosaurs

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9780156007030: Night Comes to the Cretaceous: Comets, Craters, Controversy, and the Last Days of the Dinosaurs
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What killed the dinosaurs? For more than a century, this question has been one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in science. But, in 1980, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez and his son, Walter, proposed a radical answer: 65 million years ago an asteroid or comet as big as Mt. Everest slammed into the earth, raising a dust cloud vast enough to cause mass extinction. A revolutionary idea that challenged the ice-age extinction theory, the asteroid-impact theory was scorned and derided by the science community. But after years of bitter debate and intense research, an astonishing discovery was made-an immense impact crater in the Yucatán Peninsula that was identified as Ground Zero. The Alvarezes had their proof. A dramatic scientific detective story, Night Comes to the Cretaceous is a brilliant example of science at work-in the trenches, complete with passionate struggles and occasional victories.

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About the Author:

James Lawrence Powell is president and director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. He taught geology at Oberlin College for twenty years, where he also served as acting president.

From Kirkus Reviews:

``What killed the dinosaurs? At last the great mystery has been solved.'' Coming from an esteemed geologist, a former college president, and currently the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Powell's claim cannot be dismissed as the ravings of a crank, but its certitude is, to say the least, unusual. Then the qualifier: ``A theory is never proven,'' which settles Powell square in the Popper/Kuhn nexus and gives him room to move. The answer to what killed the dinosaurs, Powell believes, has been found in the Alvarez Theory, elucidated by a Nobel Prizewinning physicist and his geologist son, which suggests a random catastrophe--a large meteorite striking the earth--raised clouds of dust, lowered temperatures and halted photosynthesis and devastated the food chain, thus spelling the great lizards' doom. This is long at odds with the gradualist, deep-time approach governing much geologic thought, and provoked much scorn. Powell endeavors to make the Alvarez idea accessible, but he can't help but wade through thickets of vertebrate paleontology and rare-metal chemistry, pick his way among impact markers like shatter cones and shocked quartz grains, painstakingly dissect the iridium anomaly found in Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary clays. Even so, Powell rarely loses his readers, and all but the most geochronologically, microisotopically, paleobotanically challenged will be able to follow his drift (and appreciate the fact that he gives rival theories their day in his people's court, as well as admitting to the more outlandish conjectures of the pro-impact theorists). Although the evidence Powell submits on behalf of the impact theory is compelling, perhaps more so are his comments on the politics of scientific enquiry: the power plays and back stabbings, the ugly career-ending insults, the absurd effort involved in querying entrenched, if suspect, theories. Powell's overriding notion is undebatable: Chance happenings surely help shape our world, and serendipity--in available tools, say, or disciplinary cross-fertilization--fuels scientific advancement. (photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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9780716731177: Night Comes to the Cretaceous: Dinosaur Extinction and the Transformation of Modern Geology

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ISBN 10:  0716731177 ISBN 13:  9780716731177
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, 1998
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