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  • APOCALYPSE NOW:

    Did meteor lead to greatest extinction?

    By Dave Santucci

    CNN) -- Scientists said Thursday they think the greatest extinction of plant and animal life may have been caused by a meteor that slammed into an area off what is now the coast of northwestern Australia 250 million years ago.

    The mass extinction known as the "Great Dying" -- which took place long before the dinosaurs died off 65 million years ago -- has been known to scientists for decades.

    But a team led by geologist Luann Becker from the University of California, Santa Barbara, said in an article published Thursday in the journal Science that the Australian crater contains evidence of the impact of a meteor 4 to 7 miles wide about the time of the Great Dying. "We think we have at least identified what is a huge impact crater," Becker said.

    The first evidence of what is now known as Bedout crater, which is 100 miles off the coast, was gathered in a core sample from the raised rim of the crater on the floor of the Indian Ocean by a small Australian company looking for oil in 1970.

    At the time, the company had no idea it was looking at an impact crater, but it estimated the samples to be about 250 million years old, the same period as the Great Dying, also known as the Permian-Triassic extinction.

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