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The Thescelosaurus moved stealthily alongside the seashore. Stretching about 12 toes lengthy and weighing about 500 kilos, the thickly muscled dinosaur was in all probability on the lookout for meals — or attempting to keep away from turning into a meal.

That includes distinguished bony eyebrows and a sharp beak, Thescelosaurus plodded alongside on two toes with the majority of its physique leaning ahead whereas a protracted tail stretched backward for stability. All of a sudden, the dinosaur lifted its head and appeared round, alarmed because the calm was damaged by a collection of unnerving pure forces.

The bottom began shaking with intense vibrations whereas water within the close by sea sloshed about in response. The sky full of burning embers, which drifted down and set fireplace to the plush primordial forest.

Thescelosaurus panicked and appeared to flee — but it surely was too late. The whole lot modified in a heartbeat as a 30-foot-high wave of mud and particles got here racing up the seaway from the south, sweeping away life and limb within the course of. The dinosaur was caught within the harmful deluge, its leg ripped off on the hip by the devastating surge.

That second — 66 million years in the past on the finish of the Cretaceous interval, when an earth-shattering asteroid ended the reign of the dinosaurs — is frozen in time at the moment by a shocking fossil discovered final yr on the Tanis dig web site in North Dakota. This completely preserved leg clearly reveals the pores and skin, muscle and bones of the three-toed Thescelosaurus.

Whereas the main points of the demise state of affairs described above are embellished, they’re primarily based on exceptional new findings and accounts by Robert DePalma, lead paleontologist at Tanis.

“We’re by no means going to say with 100% certainty that this leg got here from an animal that died on that day,” the scientist mentioned. “The factor we are able to do is decide the chance that it died the day the meteor struck. Once we take a look at the preservation of the leg and the pores and skin across the articulated bones, we’re speaking on the day of influence or proper earlier than. There was no superior decay.”

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DePalma and the dinosaur leg shall be featured in two episodes of “Nova” on PBS airing back-to-back on Wednesday: “Dinosaur Apocalypse: The New Proof” and “Dinosaur Apocalypse: The Final Day.” Biologist and pure historian Sir David Attenborough will host the packages, which have been produced along with the BBC.

The leg and a number of other different relics found on the North Dakota web site are the very first fossils discovered displaying the demise and destruction that came about when a 10-mile-long area rock struck the Yucatán Peninsula within the Gulf of Mexico. This influence occasion 66 million years in the past doomed the dinosaurs and led to the mass extinction of 75 p.c of animal and flowers on Earth.

On the time, the world was a a lot hotter place. There have been no icecaps, and water ranges have been greater. The North American continent was cut up in two by the Western Inside Seaway. Tanis is situated on what was the sting of that huge river, which grew to become a conduit of carnage after the asteroid struck. The shock waves from almost 3,000 miles away precipitated the seaway to erupt with a tsunami of epic proportions.

As DePalma identified, Thescelosaurus by no means stood an opportunity.

“You wouldn’t need to be there on that day,” he mentioned. “There was a turbulent wall of demise heading up the river. As well as, all these glowing spherules are falling out of the sky. They’re like beads of superheated glass reentering the Earth’s ambiance after being ejected from the crater web site on the Yucatán. Then there was all this seismic shaking. It was actually hell on earth.”

A dinosaur’s loss, although, is a paleontologist’s achieve. After Tanis was found in 2008, scientists started to comprehend the fossils there have been in all probability created throughout that big-impact second. A collection of key discoveries have been made, together with the dinosaur leg, the embryo of a pterosaur nonetheless in its shell, a turtle pierced by a bit of wooden and the well-preserved pores and skin of a triceratops. Many of those fossils are being introduced to the general public for the primary time within the PBS documentaries.

Maybe most telling have been the fossilized fish unearthed on the web site in 2019, which caught many scientists without warning. In these petrified stays, researchers discovered the embedded proof they wanted to substantiate the declare that the animals died when the asteroid struck: the glass spheres, often known as ejecta, that got here raining down from the sky that fateful day.

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“These have been fish that died on that day,” DePalma mentioned. “We all know that as a result of that they had ejecta from the influence of their gills.”

Researchers have unearthed numerous samples of those glass spheres, all containing the signature chemical elements typical of a serious influence occasion. Made up of sand and different earthly supplies, the molten glass was ejected into the ambiance by the explosion attributable to the asteroid putting the planet — estimated to be the equal of 10 billion atomic bombs. Inside a kind of round fossils is a tiny speck of rock that could be from the killer asteroid itself.

DePalma, a postgraduate researcher on the College of Manchester in England and adjunct professor of geosciences at Florida Atlantic College, has headed efforts at Tanis since 2012. He and different scientists on the group have printed a number of main papers describing the discoveries and outlining the scientific methodology used to this point the fossils and different proof.

DePalma asserts that what occurred then is straight related to the world at the moment.

“I’ve been requested, ‘Why ought to we care about this? Dinosaurs have been useless for therefore lengthy,’ ” he mentioned. “It’s not only for paleo nerds. This straight applies to at the moment. We’re seeing mass die-offs of animals and biomes which are being put by very hectic conditions worldwide. By trying by this window into the previous, we are able to apply these classes to at the moment.”

To provide the “Nova” episodes, DePalma labored straight with one in every of his heroes — the 96-year-old Attenborough — in reviewing the discoveries and discussing their significance.

“Sir David and I interacted and consulted on every little thing,” DePalma mentioned. “It was an amazing expertise. He can not stifle his enthusiasm. Once we have been trying on the fossils and speaking about what they meant, you couldn’t separate the 2 of us. We stored occurring and on about them. We’d have been there all day if nobody had stopped us.”

“Dinosaur Apocalypse” airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on PBS.

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