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Spring-Summer 2000
Vol. 62, No. 3

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Poreda: He discovered helium stowaways.

More evidence that the dinosaurs were wiped out by a giant wallop from space came recently when Rochester geochemist Robert Poreda and colleagues from NASA and the University of Hawaii announced that sediments formed 65 million years ago contain a ratio of helium gases normally found only in space.

The team analyzed sediments from Denmark, New Zealand, and North America that were formed at the time the dinosaurs died off.

After stripping off excess material, the scientists were left with a glob full of cage-like carbon molecules known as buckyballs (named in honor of the geodesic shape made famous by engineer and architect Buckminster Fuller).

Poreda showed that the helium gases locked inside the buckyballs were stowaways created in an extraterrestrial environment that survived the fiery reception that awaits meteorites hitting Earth and its atmosphere.

The work is further evidence of the widely accepted theory that a meteorite crashing into Earth played a part in snuffing out the dinosaurs.

The results also hint at a role for meteorites in the creation of life on Earth. As comets and meteorites bombarded the planet early in its history, they may have helped bring about life by fertilizing it with vital organic compounds. Poreda says the hypothesis is as good as any others that scientists have developed to explain how organic compounds arrived on Earth and formed the foundation for life.

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