Incoming: The Chicxulub Impactor, Part 1 ― The History By Stephanie Osborn

Incoming: The Chicxulub Impactor, Part 1 ― The History By Stephanie Osborn

As per usual, I gave a new science talk at LibertyCon this year. I get asked a lot about asteroid impacts, and for years I had a hobby of studying such things, given my background in astronomy/astrophysics. (I was even on an asteroid impact mitigation working group for a time.) So I figured it was about time to do something with this one. And of course, THE asteroid impact is the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T, or as it’s called now, the K-Pg ― the geologists changed the name of the Tertiary period to the Paleogene, for reasons unknown to me) Impactor.

There was, without doubt, an impact at the boundary between the Mesozoic and Cenozoic (modern) Eras, and that’s it ― the K-T boundary impactor. The question isn’t whether it happened, but whether it’s the cause of the extinction event that apparently occurred at the same time.

But…how do we know?

The history of the discovery is a bit drawn out, but fairly recent.

As paleontologists studied the geological record, often by cutting down through strata and determining what fossils were in each layer, they discovered that there was a major die-off between strata at the boundary between what were then called the Cretaceous and Tertiary Periods. In many cases this die-off was severe, with plentiful fossils of a given species found immediately below the boundary, and none at all just above it.

In every occurrence of the boundary, however, there was always an odd layer of clay. This clay always occurred right AT the boundary. Pay attention to that fact; it’s important.

The Players


Dr. Luis Alvarez

According to Wikipedia, “Luis Walter Alvarez (June 13, 1911―September 1, 1988) was an American experimental physicist, inventor, and professor who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1968. The American Journal of Physics commented, ‘Luis Alvarez was one of the most brilliant and productive experimental physicists of the twentieth century.’”

He got sucked into the Manhattan Project, and continued work in particle physics and the cosmological microwave background radiation after the war. He became known as a “scientific detective.”

And most importantly for our discussion, he and his wife had a son named Walter.


Dr. Walter Alvarez

Walter grew up to become, not a physicist, but a geologist. And HE got interested in that clay layer at the K-T boundary. See, it turns out that there are blue bazillions of species that had fossils BENEATH the clay layer ― that is to say, they lived before the event that laid down the clay ― but almost a completely different set ABOVE the clay layer; there were few that were found both above and below. And of those few, none were large; they were mostly niche animals or deep-marine dwellers.

So the geologists in the 1960s knew there had been an extinction event, but had no idea why. By the 1970s, Walter had his curiosity up. He found the clay layer at several digs, and wound up taking samples, then discussing the matter with his father Luis. HE, in turn, contacted colleagues at the Lawrence Berkeley Labs, who analyzed the samples of clay, and discovered…


The important thing to understand about the element iridium is that on Earth’s surface, it’s next to nonexistent, in any isotope. It’s in the platinum group of metals, and is considered one of the rarest elements on Earth, though it’s very useful in our high-tech world. To give you an idea of how rare, it’s estimated that only three metric tons per year are produced worldwide.

It is, however, rather abundant in meteors and asteroids.
And in that little clay layer.

The Boundary Layer

The boundary layer is the narrow greenish-brown

band above the pale tan layer.

The logical conclusion was that there had been an impact someplace. They didn’t know WHERE, but they published a paper in 1980…and opened up a can of worms that went on for years, and considerable argument, not all of the pleasant debate variety. In fact Luis died (1988) before the matter could be resolved.


PEMEX is the Petroleos Mexicanos, a Mexican petroleum company, and they’d been doing geological surveys of their country since at least the 1950s. And it was in the 1950s that their prospectors noticed an odd, nearly-perfect semicircular feature in several forms of data, all centered along the shoreline of the Yucatan Peninsula. More, in the various gravitational- and magnetic-anomaly data, there was a matching semicircle offshore, extending from the Bay of Campeche into the Gulf of Mexico. It was too symmetric to be a volcano, and matched no known volcanic structures.

Enter two PEMEX

Enter two PEMEX petrogeologists conducting a survey of the Yucatan in 1978: Glen Penfield and Antonio Camargo-Zanoguera. They, and contractor Robert Baltosser, began to suspect it was an impact crater, but PEMEX forbade discussion with the community at large, lest company-proprietary information should leak as a result.

company- proprietary

But when the Alvarez’ paper came out in 1980, only two years later, they realized they might hold the smoking gun. Penrose attempted to contact them, but got no response. Penfield and Camargo-Zanoguera reported their findings to the Society of Exploration Geophysicists in 1981, proposing that it might be the same crater for which the Alvarezes were searching. But the meeting was poorly attended, and apparently most of the impact experts were off attending a different meeting.

At the same time, graduate student Alan R. Hildebrand published a paper on the impact theory, and began to try to localize the impact, searching for candidate sites. He knew the Gulf of Mexico was the likely site, but had no luck trying to narrow it down.

Nine years later, in 1990, a reporter told Hildebrand about Penrose’s paper, and Hildebrand contacted Penrose. Location of some of Pemex’s drill-core samples was made, and the samples were tested…and found precisely what Hildebrand expected to see in an impact site sample.

Nearly forty years after the first discovery of the gravitational and magnetic anomalies, and fully ten years after the Alvarezes proposed the notion, the asteroid-impact extinction hypothesis was complete. Unfortunately it was not well-received by geologists, and there is still contention, even today.

However, most of the naysayers were silenced when the full volume of the data began to emerge.

We’ll look at that next time.


For more details, check out INCOMING! The Chicxulub Impactor by Stephanie Osborn on Kindle and Nook.

INCOMING! The Chicxulub Impactor


About 66 million years ago, some 80% of ALL SPECIES ON EARTH became extinct — at the boundary between the Mesozoic and modern eras. In every occurrence of the boundary, all over the world, there was always an odd layer of clay. When the thin clay layer was found to have high levels of iridium — an element rare on Earth’s surface — things got interesting.

Stephanie Osborn’s latest fiction novel:  CAMPBELL: The Sigurdsen Incident (Childers Universe Book 6.



Captain Mary Rao, Jablonka’s planetary tactical officer, seems to be under the gun from all angles, but neither the Sigurdsen Base military police nor the counter-intelligence investigations personnel believes that it’s anything more than a confluence of accidents.

Lieutenant William Campbell of the CSF Intelligence Division believes differently. What he doesn’t know is who or why.

And if he can’t figure it out soon, he could die with her.


203 thoughts on “Incoming: The Chicxulub Impactor, Part 1 ― The History By Stephanie Osborn

    1. Heh. My geology degree had an… interesting class. The professor was a firm believer in an expanding Earth and that big G was not a constant but a very slowly fluctuating variable.

      Best thing he did was make us think for ourselves.

            1. Be fair: with Biden it is the delivery that is the greater flaw. Neil Kinnock* was a terrific speech writer.

              *It is a matter of some satisfaction with the Huns that I feel zero need to identify that reference. Of course, that might merely mean we’re many of us old with yet functioning memory.

              1. I confess that I can’t bring the man to memory, but looking him up is simple enough. I suggest that what we have among us is a community of people accustomed to resear

        1. My macroeconomics professor used Krugman’s textbook when I was taking the class in summer 2009. Ugh. Decent prof, though, and willing to admit that various aspects of reality did contradict some of the theories Krugman was expounding.

    2. Contention? Among scientists? Inconceivable!

      You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

      (Hey, somebody had to say it.) [Deploying anti-Carp barrier]

    1. That’s *fast*. Nitrous oxide’s anesthetic effects were noted upon discovery. It was 70 years later that it began to be used thus. Yes, 7 decades of needless pain. Makes one wonder what marvels are just sitting around, waiting, now.

            1. Anesthesia. Doc comes home after an “ether jag” (1800’s dope party…) and realizes he bashed his knee but good… and hadn’t felt a thing. And gets to thinking about it.

  1. They split the Tertiary period into the Paleogene and the Neogene Periods. Both terms being somewhat more descriptive of what was going on than just “the third one.” Although they’ve done nothing with the Quaternary as of yet (despite the hubristic attempt to create the “Anthropogene Period”).

    1. I’ve seen Anthropogene but my absolute favorite was the paper I found that labeled all the figures with Quaternary information as “nowadays”.

      I kid you not. Also, I love it. Love it!

    2. I know. I get the reason for the name changes. I’m just old enough to be used to it the other way. And K-T is a lot easier and snappier to say (and type) than K-Pg, so there!

    3. I’ve generally found that renaming commonly understood things is primarily a means to make knowledge inaccessible.

      1. I usually read Dave Middleton’s columns over on Watts Up With That – and understand about half of them…

        At least “Paleogene” and “Neogene” are pronounceable. He had a column a while ago on the latest renaming round for the shorter time spans, and made me glad that I never followed up a notion to become a professional geologist. Jaw surgery is not my idea of fun.

  2. May I offer a couple of additional points?

    1) The iridium in the K-T clay layer is identified as extraterrestrial partly because of the amount of iridium and partly because of the iridium’s isotope ratios. Natural iridium comes in two isotopes, Ir-191 and Ir-193. Iridium found on Earth has a certain ratio of these isotopes. Iridium from asteroids has a different ratio. The iridium in the clay layer matches the asteroidal ratio, not the Earthly one.

    2) There’s a not-well-known study of fossils across the K-T boundary in the Hell Creek (latest Cretaceous) and Tullock (earliest Paleocene) formations in Montana. Dr. Laurie J. Bryant did her doctoral dissertation on these fossils, and found a pattern of extinction and survival that doesn’t fit the “asteroid doomsday” theory at all. Her dissertation was published by the University of California as “Non-Dinosaurian Lower Vertebrates Across the Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary in Northeastern Montana.” I HIGHLY recommend it for anyone interested in the question of the K-T extinction.

    1. The asteroid/comet impact certainly grabs the imagination more than the idea of species in gradual decline before finally dying out. But while individual species go extinct other species replace them. The worldwide extent of the K-T extinctions and the nearly complete turnover of species does seem to require an extraordinary event.

      But there are other large impact structures which are not associated with such extinctions (Chesapeake Bay for instance). Clearly there was something different about the K-T which made it especially deadly. I am aware of some conjectures about what that might be, but I don’t necessarily want to get ahead of the story here.

      1. For one thing, the Chicxulub crater is double the diameter of the Chesapeake Bay crater, roughly 4 times the area. That might have something to do with it.

        1. There are other known large impact sites, and a couple suspected but unproven. There are also a lot more extinction events in Earth’s history; the K-T event is just the best known to laypeople. And yes, there may be a correlation between the ages of some of those sites and other extinction events. I can’t recall right now if that’s in one of the blog articles (Amazon gets PO’ed if you put EVERYTHING in your book someplace else), but I KNOW I discuss it in the ebook.

          1. I would love to know why three of the five largest mass extinctions are time-correlated with the three largest known flood-basalt eruptions. The terminal Permian extinction matches the Siberian Traps; the terminal Triassic extinction correlates with the gargantuan Central Atlantic Magmatic Province; and the K-T extinction matches the Deccan Traps.

            1. Depends what you mean by correlated. Remember, just because something is within a huge timeframe doesn’t make it connected. In point of fact (and I think I mention it in one of the upcoming articles, but I know it’s in the book), the iridium clay layer is found quite distinctly in the Deccan INTERTRAPPEAN strata. Meaning it plainly and unequivocally occurred IN BETWEEN Deccan eruptions. After all, the Deccan eruptions went on for OVER five million years. So that’s kind of like throwing a blanket over a bulls-eye target and saying you hit the target.

      1. That will be discussed in later installments, also. FWIW, Walter Alvarez has been involved in that particular dig. DePalma has some sort of taint on him in the community — I don’t know why, or what it was about, though I kinda gathered it might be mostly a case of over-enthusiasm — but Alvarez does not, so with him involved, I think it is much more unimpeachable.

        1. I remember reading about DePalma in relation to his dig. Part of the controversy around hims is how he holds onto his fossils I believe. He doesn’t believe in giving them to museums I think?

          1. I think the article mentioned that he doesn’t give them away without strings attached. He retains rights to oversee their management.

    1. A soldering iron or pencill touched to the hot antenna lead of a keyed transmitter works too.

    2. Meteorites generally don’t get that hot. In fact, nickel-iron meteorites have been observed to start frosting over upon reaching the ground.

      An asteroid of size is a whole ‘nother ballgame. “Greetings, Professor Falken…”

    1. Glen Penfield. Sorry. I have a tendency, given my principal studies, to pull up Penrose’s name in my mind instead, Roger Penrose being a famous physicist. I’ll also double-check that in the ebook. (Right after I get back from the doctor’s office this afternoon, where he’ll see to my sprained patellar tendon.)

        1. I hope so too, The knee was pitching outright fits this morning, hurting in every position I tried (and that was in bed, so it wasn’t bearing any weight), and I could barely walk on it when I got up.

          Texted Uncle the MD, who recommended: 1) tylenol or aspirin (Xstrength Tylenol), keep it warm (got wrapped up in two microfleece throw blankies), and call my doctor’s office (they scheduled me for 2pm).

          Good news: the dangerously high BP (originally 170/110 in his office) was, today, 115/82. (Nah, I’ve not been under any stress. Nope. Not a bit. I got swampland in Arizona for sale, too. And a bridge in Brooklyn.)

          Re: the knee, I’m being sent to get a fitted knee brace, have instructions to use my cane for a while, and since my orthopedist retired and the clinic never contacted me about reassigning me to a different doctor, the GP’s office is gonna see about getting me a new ortho. They wanted to give me a ‘script for the pain, but my IBS doesn’t tolerate NSAIDs other than aspirin & tylenol, and oral steroids trigger the anxiety badly. So I guess I’ll be alternating aspirin and tylenol for the duration.

      1. I confess, I was also confused, and wondering what pickled sausage had to do with this.

        A common bar item (along with pickled eggs) of my youth, I’ve no idea if they’re still available today.

            1. Farmer’s markets are a good place to try. Might be that my little hole in the wall town is just odd that way, though. Blackberry moonshine and pickled pigs’ feet are a thing here, too. *chuckle*

        1. Same. Soon as I can get my various responsibilities standing on their various own, I hope to go back. It’s… rather difficult to let another hold the riens.

  3. Before I graduated a visiting someone or other presented a paper to our colloquium class arguing that the impactor may have been a comet. I don’t know how that works for iridium, but the fellow seemed to have a point about the apparent mass of the impactor vs. the energy of the impact.

    In any case, it was interesting.

    1. That is one of the notions, but the general consensus among those who have studied the details of the impact is that it was an asteroid. Comets have a different sort of profile, being less dense and therefore required to be larger to produce the same effects.

  4. Hah! Dad’s firmly on the nice meteor, but it couldn’t have caused that side: at most, it was icing on an ongoing extinction cake.

    Which was actually a good exercise in skepticism in media reports for me growing up . . .

    But I should shut up until the appropriate time to talk traps and climate change.

    Stephanie, one of Dad’s favorite bits of anti-impact-caused evidence is the decreasing numbers of species found below the K-T (Pg). I’d assume you’d be aware of that, spread over millions of years of rock below the boundary, but since it didn’t get in the paragraph, figured I’d mention it.

    1. Patience. This is discussed in a later article. This is only 1 of 6 articles in the series. And it’s discussed in more detail in the ebook.

      Still, there are aspects of that scenario that don’t really quiiiiiiiite fit.

          1. Well, at the very least, there were quakes and probably volcanic eruptions out the wazoo.

            That said, a sufficient condition needs no embroidery, and an impact was certainly a sufficient condition.

            There’s also a good bit of debate re: the statistics that indicate a decline prior to.

                1. The special effects and after impact countdown on the recent NOVA program about the impact are grim enough, and they don’t get into the “wall-o-water up the seaway” part.

  5. completely OT. An Instalink led me to

    And there was this sentence in the essay: “And it’s what feels equally wrong about conservatives who claim to revere life, and yet can display such brazen cruelty to immigrants and prisoners.”

    The author says he’s trying to understand the big political differences, but is completely lacking a clue that anyone could question the premises of his throw-away line about “brazen cruelty to immigrants and prisoners.”

      1. One wonders precisely how “immigrants” and “prisoners” are defined. Methinks the line is drawn rather more broadly than “illegal immigrants” and “convicted criminals” – and while I don’t condone cruelty to either grouping, I rather suspect what the author of the piece believes is cruelty (brazen or not) may not be quite so cruel as he thinks.

        Aka make a big brassy throwaway line that completely undermines your pretense of thoughtful investigation and signals your virtue for all to see.

        1. Author probably thinks just shooting the invaders out of hand is cruel; when that was really the most human means to stopping them for most of history. Of course they could have captured them instead and turned them over to the women of the ‘tribe’.

          1. The question of how moral is it to entice such folks here when their most likely and common path is rather frought with rapists, thieves, and outright murderers. I’d believe the “one in five” statistic far more likely of young female illegal immegrants than pampered female US college students needs to be addressed as well. The injured party, being legal residents (most especially legal immigrants now US citizens) needs to be represented as well. There is also the blatant irresponsibility (yes, I am thinking stronger words, but they do not go on this blog) of having de facto open borders with a welfare state.

            To say nothing of excusing immoral behaviors all the while and then being shocked when they continually fail to become law abiding citizens. *shakes head*

            It is all well and good for the author to state:

            ” If anything, you’re probably more convinced than ever that your position is correct.

            The process is called biased assimilation. It’s the well-documented tendency of people to interpret information in a manner that confirms their pre-existing beliefs. The effect is so strong that when people are presented with information that contradicts a belief they hold, they’ll often become more rather than less certain of their conviction. “

            And there are things about which I am (at this point) unconvinceable. But, like most people I know, there are things that I believe that have good arguments that *don’t* support my belief. Dealing mostly with college students can give a rather skewed perspective on the world.

        2. I cannot speak as to this guy, but over the years I have noticed a great many of those who condemn the cruelty of imprisonment and how prisoners are treated … often seem surprisingly joyful at the idea of their political opponents being imprisoned and abused. Remember all that chortling anticipation of Karl Rove being “frog-marched” out of the White House? They seem pretty okay with the concept of Trump being raped in a cell.

          Of course, theirs is a philosophy of “Who, whom.”

      2. I mean, have you priced Brass, or even studied the difficulties of confining someone stationarily in the same area you are handling molten metals?

        Okay, this free range asylum model for substance abusers, which is the status quo and hence the default conservative plan, is so cruel that it would be kinder and more compassionate to blowtorch the poor fellows to death.

        ‘The current policy is cruel’ is not an actual argument if you are not plausibly providing a viable alternative, and it is credible that the existing implementation is a trade off with no good solutions.

      1. Going “well, if I don’t actually care about human life, why aren’t we…” seems like it would help me.

        Of course, the difference between us is that you identify as Mythical and I identify as a monster. Might be an important difference here.

  6. Thanks Stephanie, I always enjoy learning new stuffs (or in this case, learning about really really old stuffs).

    According to the “news” feed on my phone, an asteroid is going to hit earth and destroy all life any day now… or sometime in the next 800 million years. The evidence usually boils down to “It’s bound to happen sooner or later!”

    So maybe if the idea gets popular, there will be a resurgence in the idea of leaving this mudball. The tech advancements made in support of that endeavor might, MIGHT, make up for having to see the deranged “OMG WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE (maybe sometime in the next 800 million years)” stupidity.

    1. Oh, it’s not stupidity, and the timeframe is likely much much shorter than that.

      Just wait until I get to the timeline of events during the impact, and see if you want to risk it.

      And it doesn’t take an extinction event to create a huge disaster. The Chelyabinsk asteroid had a relatively shallow atmospheric entry angle. Had it come in at a steeper angle, even with the airburst, the shock wave would have propagated straight down and flattened the entire city.

        1. Now put both right over NYC or L.A. instead of out nowhere.
          one can dream. . . wait!
          How horrible!
          yeah, that’s it
          all jokes aside, if one were to pop a major metro, all those whiners complaining about fixing Earf Foist, would demand to know why it wasn’t detected soonest and “Stopped like that there Movie”

          1. Oh PLEASE don’t even bring up “that there Movie.” I will defenestrate something large, and they already want me to see an orthopedist for this dang knee…

            1. Ah, but which ‘That There Movie’? There were two, and one was much worse than the other.

              Hint to future screenwriters: If an asteroid ‘the size of Texas’ gets closer than the Moon and is still on a collision course, it’s time to put your head between your knees and kiss your ass goodbye.

              I call such things Hollywood Stupid.
              At my house, the ‘things that go bump in the night’ are cats.

              1. A and MEN!

                And that’s the one. The other one had good science for the most part, but the writing came across as TV movie-of-the-week in terms of the characters and relationships.

                1. The bad one got featured in the Flat State U geology club “Bad Movie of the Month” rotation. Much popcorn was thrown and a fine time was had by all.

                2. FWIW the one with good science (for those that don’t know, we’re comparing Armageddon to Deep Impact), Deep Impact had as its scientific consultants Carolyn and Gene Shoemaker. (Gene was the geologist to realize that impact features WERE impact features and not volcanic; together, they, with David Levy, were responsible for many comets, including the “string of pearls” Jupiter impactor, Shoemaker-Levy-9.)

                  1. Minor quibble:

                    “… were responsible for identifying many comets, …”

                    The original phrasing made my thinkum hurt.

                    1. Fair enough.
                      Remember that I’m trying to keep up with all of the comments, though, and we’ve already topped 150 and counting, and it hasn’t been a great day for me, pain-wise. I think a mis-statement is allowed once in a while.

              2. I call such things Hollywood Stupid.

                Point of Order!

                Is “Hollywood Stupid” redundant? Or is it a necessary modifier required to distinguish from, say, “Washington, DC Stupid”?

                1. Speaking of Hollywood Stupid …

                  I was checking in at IMDb to see if any local theatres will be showing Miss Virginia* this week and saw this:

                  Emperor Palpatine Returns In ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

                  Yeah, think I’ll skip that one, too.

                  *about Virginia Walden Ford’s fight to get the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program enacted, enabling inner-city youths to escape the prison that is the DC Public Schools System. (Virginia Walden Ford is President, Washington, DC Chapter, Black Alliance for Educational OptionsVirginia Walden Ford serves on the board of directors of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), and is the president of BAEO’s Washington, DC chapter. Ford is also executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice.)


                  1. Further info, because I know how the Huns feel about our public schools:

                    Virginia Walden Ford
                    Although Virginia Walden Ford always watched nervously from her car until she saw that William, her problem son, actually had entered the school building before driving off to work, the dreaded call came anyway: William had not shown up for school.

                    William, as soon as he was sure his mother could no longer observe him, routinely turned in his tracks and took off for the mean streets of Washington, D.C., where drug dealers courted boys with expensive gifts. “William was one of those kids God gives you so you’ll find out if you really have what it takes to be a parent,” Walden Ford tells IWF.

                    It was dealing with William’s problems that showed that Walden Ford also had what it took to become one of the most effective leaders of the school choice movement. In 1998 she founded D.C. Parents for School Choice, Inc., and was a founding member of The Black Alliance for Educational Option, Inc.

                    Without Walden Ford, there just might not be the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which gives scholarships for K-12 students from low-income families to attend the private or parochial school. She and her army of mothers were an essential part of the campaign to get the Opportunity Scholarships signed into law. When the Obama administration threatened the program by choking off its funding, Walden Ford again mobilized her army of parents and helped save the program that allows parents to take their kids out of failing public schools


                    Such success and acclaim might have looked highly unlikely back in 1996, when Virginia was a single parent, agonizing over William, her youngest child. School officials, she says, sometimes dismiss kids like William as not very smart. “I knew that wasn’t the case with William,” she says. But he was undeniably headed in the wrong direction. “By the time he was 11, things had gotten really bad,” Walden Ford recalls. “Right up the street from us was a very crime-ridden area. And William was just attracted to that, it seemed. He couldn’t stay away from that area, and I was constantly having to go get him. The drug dealers would give kids expensive gifts in return delivering drugs wrapped in a newspaper.”

                    When William was suspended from school once again, Virginia sat on the front porch, crying and a neighbor, Robert Lewis, a man who had done well but nevertheless returned to live in the neighborhood, was passing by. Lewis stopped and asked her if she was all right. “And I said, I’m not,” she recalls. “I’m really worried about William.” Lewis knew William, and his potential. “I’d like to help him,” Lewis said. The help was in the form of a scholarship to a private school.

                    Virginia didn’t let false pride stand in the way. She jumped at the life-changing offer. William enrolled in Archbishop Carroll High School (also Bob Lewis’s alma mater), nearby in the Brookland-Catholic University neighborhood. “William immediately relaxed,” Walden Ford recalls. “I had never seen him like that. It was something about how he walked into the school. They didn’t have metal detectors. The kids looked engaged and people were smiling and he just relaxed, and immediately I saw something change in him. Just at that moment.”


                    Virginia says. “I don’t know how I did it. But I’d look at the child and I would look at all of my kids and I knew this was just something I had to do. I was blessed because my parents taught us to be hard workers and to not fall under the weight of life’s hard things. We learned not to accept defeat and not to make defeat a part of us.” Walden Ford’s parents had also given her something else: a firm belief in the power of education. In a way, her school choice fight has its roots not only in Washington but in the racially troubled Little Rock, Arkansas, where Virginia and her beloved identical twin sister, Harrietta, grew up.

                    Their father was William Harry Fowler, the first black assistant superintendent in the Little Rock School District. “My dad has the best story in the world,” Virginia says, with obvious affection. “My dad was the child of a train attendant and lady who cleaned houses. Neither of whom had more than a third-grade education, but they were smart and they had a son who was smart, I mean, brilliant. He excelled in everything he did. But this was Marion, North Carolina. And the schools in Marion, North Carolina, for black kids, only went to the eighth grade.”

                    The Fowlers had heard of the Stillman Institute in Alabama. The Institute, which became Stillman College, a historically black college, had a junior and senior high school. “My grandparents put their money together and sent their 13-year-old all alone to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and he talked Stillman Institute into letting him be the janitor and go to high school. He worked his way through Stillman. He went to the junior college. Then he went into the military. He was in the military stationed in Arkansas, when he decided to attend Philander Smith where he met my mom.” Philander Smith College is a historically black college in Little Rock.

                    Virginia’s mother, Marion Virginia Johnson Fowler, was the daughter of a bricklayer and a seamstress who sewed for many wealthy people in Little Rock. She graduated from Philander Smith at the age of sixteen and became a public-school teacher.


                    When Fowler became assistant superintendent for personnel for the Little Rock School District, Virginia recalls that the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in their yard. “I was crying, I was terrified,” Virginia says. “Somebody threw a rock through the window and nearly hit my six-month-old sister.” Finally, Mr. Fowler went outside with a rifle, but, fortunately, the Klansmen had left. William Harry Fowler belonged to the NAACP, and it has been a disappointment to Virginia that the organization opposes school choice.

                    Sounds embittering, doesn’t it?

                    “I was bitter for a while,” she admits. “But I want you to understand why I am not bitter now. Our parents were Christians and they would not permit us to hate people. They said there were good and bad in every race. I went back to my fiftieth reunion at Central. I realized during the banquet that I needed to let go of any lingering bitterness. And people had changed. Whatever was going on when I was in high school had changed and with it my classmates had changed, too.”

                    Fired up by her success in helping William, Virginia became a neighborhood activist for the cause of school choice, volunteering with the Center for Education Reform and the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. She wanted other parents to know that something could be done—and that, regardless of their income or zip code, they should be empowered to have more say in the education of their children.


                    In 2015 then-Speaker John Boehner’s SOAR bill reauthorized the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. Virginia now lives mostly in Little Rock with her sister Harrietta, but she still travels the country to promote school choice. A Marine veteran, William now works for UPS and just bought his first house in the D.C. area.

                    Throughout her career there was one constant motivation: “I love kids and I love it when they have an opportunity to do better in their lives,” she says. She believes that the school choice is slightly stalled. The solution? Re-inspiring parents. “There are parent activists today, but I think that we were warriors. It’s different. We need more parents who are school choice warriors today.”

                    Let’s hope that as more people learn of Virginia Walden Ford’s story and the effect she has had, they are inspired to follow in her steps and add to her already considerable legacy.

                    [END EXCERPT]

                    Sorry for the lengthy excerpt – you really do want to have read the whole thing.

            2. Hey, in one of them there movies (the slightly less annoying one), my cousin had his ideal role. (Deep Impact)
              “Show up for a day or two of shooting, get killed in your second scene, go home and bank the pay.”

        2. Tunguska is fascinating. I’ve read some eyewitness reports — out in the middle of nowhere though it was, there were still people there to see. Those are mind-blowing. And entire herds of caribou killed per some reports. Let alone some 800sq.mi. of forest leveled.

          They’re finally starting to find fragments of the impactor, too.

      1. So this is future weapon effects 101, and hence I should make sure to bookmark every one of these for when I have to really digest them?

        Has just occurred to me to wonder how one of the UC Gundam colony drops would have actually gone. The Island Three, IIRC, has some unsolved engineering problems, and absent knowing those answers it might be hard to say if they would have burnt up in atmosphere. Are there any open source guidelines for designing impactors?

        1. …and no open source guidelines that I know of.

          There are a few online “plug in your parameters and see what happens” models, though. I played with those a bit during the course of writing the ebook. Very enlightening, especially if you haven’t already worked calcs on such. I think I put at least one in the references section of the ebook.

      2. To be fair, It was the “We are all going to die any second” tone in those articles that I was calling stupid. Yes, mankind really needs an escape plan because yes, there is a real danger. I’m all for that.

        Hell, when a number of my friends were laughing and making fun of Trump’s “Space Army”, I was quietly cheering. Not because I think we have a great need to project military might into space (although we will eventually I’m sure), but because of all the innovation that will be needed to make that happen. Innovation that could/probably would come in handy for both space exploration/colonization, or doing something should that “inevitable” planet-killing asteroid ever actually show up, if indeed that is even possible.

    2. Not until late next year, and this time it will be the Democrats pledging support no Conservatives.

    3. According to the “news” feed on my phone, an asteroid is going to hit earth and destroy all life any day now

      The smart* money is on the parlay of the asteroid hitting just as the Yellowstone caldera starts to blow, with the two events cancelling out.

      *In this context, being “smart” means you live to collect.

            1. Thus my point in the original comment: if they do not cancel each other, I cannot collect.

              The statistical probability (or scientific coherence) of them cancelling is irrelevant to the bet, except in the sense that absent such unlikeliness I am probably not even a pile of ash, being scattered to the four winds.

              Are you going to insist on making me further explain such a feeble jest?

      1. Asteroid impacting on the Yellowstone caldera, triggering same at the same time as a huge CME strikes, for the ELE trifecta

  7. FYI, CAMPBELL: The Sigurdsen Incident, is a prequel and does not have to be read in sequence with the other books in the Childers series; it can be read standalone without any loss of understanding.

    1. speak for yourself. I am losing more and more understanding every day. I blame my workplace!
      Oh, wait.
      You were talkin’ about something else.

    1. Petite complaint time: The books [] section of your site seems a trifle out of date, which poses a problem for those of us with Impaired Memory Syndrome (commonly known as Dunforgot’s Disease).

      And Amazon isn’t much help in determining what the title of Division One Book 10* happened to be.

      *Nor 9, 8, 7 …

      1. Supposed to be in the bottom of the blurb on most of ’em. Anyway, here’s the list currently.

        Books in the Division One series, to date:
        1) Alpha and Omega
        2) A Small Medium At Large
        3) A Very UnCONventional Christmas
        4) Tour de Force
        5) Trojan Horse
        6) Texas Rangers
        7) Definition and Alignment
        8) Phantoms
        9) Head Games
        10) Break, Break, Houston

        Not yet released:
        11) Tourist Trap (Nov 2019)
        12) Mega Moth (2020)
        with more on the way.

        1. Supposed to be in the bottom of the blurb on most of ’em.

          That’s what I thought. Amazon seems to not agree.

          Stupid Amazon.

          Checking for availability on Mega Moth generated a prompt for Mega Mothra … I hope you’re not trending toward that genre. (Although it would be cool if you did.)

          1. Yes, the iridium is normally a good marker in the exact way you’re remarking. And the other poster is also correct in that the isotopic abundances of Earth-originating iridium and “cosmic” iridium are differing ratios. So when they found “cosmic” abundance ratios and, relatively speaking, a huge quantity of it, then their first reaction was…

            “…We goofed!”

            Which was why Catherine Asaro’s father (who was the physical chemist in charge of the analysis — small world, huh?) insisted on re-running the analysis. Again, and again, and again. Until there was no other conclusion to be reached but that it was REAL.

      2. (commonly known as Dunforgot’s Disease)

        No, no, the technical term is CRS — Can’t Remember Shit. Often associated with CFS — Can’t Find Shit.

          1. Turns out there’s a simple, weird little trick to eliminate that problem.

            I can never remember what it is, however.

  8. Walter Alvarez’s book, _The Mountains of St. Francis_ is a very nice little geology/history/travel book about his work in Italy. Highly recommend.

    1. Just speculating, but maybe it was named by Germans, who seem to prefer K’s, or maybe by the same folks who gave all sorts of K names in American advertising: Kozy, Komfy, Kampground, etc.

    2. I hadn’t even noticed that. My guess: In some other language (I would guess French for it to have made the abbreviation, but almost certainly Greek), it’s probably spelled Kretaseous. Cerberus and Kerberos are the same dog (ish thing). Hercules and Herakles, etc… The English “c” needs to be replaced with something more useful.

      1. In formal Latin classes, at least the ones I had, the pronunciations taught reflect that the earlier Latin alphabet had fewer letters. Forex, Julius, is something like you lee us because the Romans spelled it Iulius, and didn’t need a J seperate from I. C was mostly or entirely hard, for the same reason, C/K were not distinct. W/v likewise. In vinio veritas? En winny oh werry tas.

        Fun thing is that English went one path, and some of the other Latin influenced languages went others. Compare the Latin v and the German w.

        Anyway, Hercules was the result of Anglicizing the Latinization of the Greek word we Anglicize Herakles. I don’t think you could fix the irregularities of English without having a fix for people wanting to import different versions of the same word from different languages. I think we should consider ourselves fortunate that we have as few words that we can do that with, and that we don’t have tons where you can do it three, four, or a dozen times.

        1. “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”
          –James D. Nicoll

    3. Because of the Cambrian. In order to reduce confusion back down to baseline [I kid, I kid, but only a little], Cretaceous is abbreviated to K. Geologic nomenclature can get as confusing as biologic, and just as fraught. (There’s an on-going battle regionally if a certain rock layer should be a named group or of it is just part of other strata, or if the regional type-site doesn’t count because what might be the same layer may have been named something else earlier in a different location… The debates have gotten rather heated at times. Especially after a few brews or other adult beverages.)

    4. What Miss Red said. And C-T puts me in mind of Cervical-Thoracic. Nevermind. Brain goes a-wandering sometimes and only comes back later covered in leaves and fuzzy bits of “don’t wanna know.”

        1. No worries. So far, I’ll worry more when my mind *stops* wandering off in a wonder at odd times. *chuckle* And as long as it comes back sans bird nests and live mice, things are pretty normal. Twigs and all. *grin*

  9. Was the impact site particularly rich in sulfur?

    I seem to recall discussion of “meanwhile, elsewhere” that the biosphere was already a mess due to volcanism and some other problems. The space-rock just was the last straw that swamped the boat. Possibly by hitting something very messy to add to atmosphere.

    1. “Meanwhile, elsewhere” really wasn’t, Yes, the Deccan Traps had begun erupting, but trappean eruptions, while considered supervolcanoes, are effusive rather than explosive (see Kiss Your Ash Goodbye: The Yellowstone Supervolcano), and while they disgorge huge quantities of lava in the region, they tend not to be so devastating to the global environment.

      But yes, the impact site HAD been VERY rich in both hydrocarbons and sulfur compounds, all of which got released by the impact.

      VERY long-lived and far-reaching effects.

      1. Even an “ordinary” volcano can load the atmosphere with enough soot to alter temperatures globally. A long running “traps” isn’t going to be cataclysmic, but it might well use up the “slack” in everything’s adaptability.

        What did the ashfall study show for the Deccan Traps? Is that region also coal-bearing and/or sulfur-bearing?

        Any way to gage insolation (by isotopes?) on either side of / during the K-T layer? (Coincidental solar minimum?)

        Bolt from the blue versus last straw… (Well, a -big- last straw)

        Hmm. A fascinating puzzle. So many questions. So many “calendars” to synch up.

  10. I read quite a while ago that the reason they looked for Iridium was because they wanted to calculate how much time had elapsed to produce the clay layer. They knew the rate Iridium falls, so they figured that the concentration of the Iridium would tell them the length of time it took the clay layer to be produced.

    So they were not looking for an asteroid, they were doing a very clever dating thing, but the levels were off the charts, so that is when the idea of it being a massive crash first started. Another example of how the first words from a scientist is not “Eureka”, but “that’s interesting”.

    Here in the bay area, we had a small earthquake and small aftershocks in the east bay. What is interesting is how the USGS says it is on a previously “unknown fault”. Rather it is proof that they may be underestimating the danger of a known fault.

    If you get a chance to look at the USGS site for the past week, it is interesting. You have the main shock at 14.8 Km, then if you look at the pattern of smaller aftershocks you can see how they define the fault as aftershocks to the west of the epicenter move higher the farther west. The closest to the surface I saw was 10.8 km.

    The reason I think this is evidence it being a known fault is that if you look at the fault that runs along the 680 interstate from San Jose northwest, this series of earthquakes lines up in a straight line with the extension of the fault. The official USGS line is that the Calaveras Fault stops south of Walnut Creek, so their danger calculations assume less danger.

    If you extend the line of the Calaveras northwest, it lines up with the Napa fault where 5 years ago there was the largest earthquake in the bay area in the past 30 years. Also the Sacramento River makes a right turn along that line from San Jose to Napa. It looks like streams at the San Andreas where the right lateral fault slowly moves streams along in a series of jogs.

    If the Calaveras is this long it changes the possible max quake, and changes the danger to the bay area. Prior to the Loma Prieta 30 years ago today, the Calaveras had a pattern of quakes moving north from Hollister where it starts from the San Andreas. Will the line between San Jose and Vallejo rupture? I don’t know, but this little 4.5 earthquake should be considered as a reminder to be prepared in earthquake country, on this the anniversary of the largest earthquake in the bay area since 1906.

    1. Trying again to get this response in the right place:

      Yes, the iridium is normally a good marker in the exact way you’re remarking. And the other poster is also correct in that the isotopic abundances of Earth-originating iridium and “cosmic” iridium are differing ratios. So when they found “cosmic” abundance ratios and, relatively speaking, a huge quantity of it, then their first reaction was…

      “…We goofed!”

      Which was why Catherine Asaro’s father (who was the physical chemist in charge of the analysis — small world, huh?) insisted on re-running the analysis. Again, and again, and again. Until there was no other conclusion to be reached but that it was REAL.

    2. As for the Calaveras fault, it can be very difficult to trace underground faults in a heavily-faulted area like California. It may well be that the two faults (Calaveras and Napa) are connected. OR, it may also be that they were NOT, but are NOW. Big quakes can cause faults to extend, sort of like how a crack in your windshield can grow under stress.

      1. That is where the “evidence” of the jog in the Sacramento is concerning. Is that a sign of enough quakes to shift the track of the biggest river in California miles?
        California’s topography helps reveal the underlying forces. North America moving west keeps shifting the faults east. I can see that the main crack which is now the San Andreas used to be now “dead” faults to the west, and the line of the Calaveras now seems closer to the preferred line of cracking. So LA will never meet SF, since they will both be west of the main line of movement by the time LA moves to where the bay is now.

        The shift in the movement of the Pacific plate a million years ago has made for a complex movement of the state of California. So much we still don’t know.

        That applies to the danger of asteroids and comets. Counting craters to give us an idea of how often we get hit, missed all the air blasts like the three Russian explosions. I wonder how close whatever sailed over Utah came to exploding? Imagine a history where the “bus” blows up near Salt Lake City. How might the history of space flight been changed if we had realized how much danger we were in? We would have learned we had a real reason to have a space defense force.

        We keep learning the universe is more dangerous than we knew. They first thought Cascadia was a dead subduction zone, until those dead trees, and the unknown Japanese Tsunami showed up. It wasn’t so long ago we didn’t know “Yellowstone” had blown up for 20,000,000 years from one side of Idaho to the other. Gamma ray bursters, black holes, dark energy, so much we have learned that could kill us.
        What is it we still don’t know that can kill us? When the east side of Hawaii falls into the sea, how big a tsunami will hit LA? I check space weather daily, there was mention of a fireball from the October Ursae Majorid stream that orbits perpendicular to the plane of the solar system. We don’t know which comet it comes from. Is that another potential killer comet set to arrive?
        I know the Perseids are associated with Swift-Tuttle, the 26km comet with the 133 year orbit. How many other meteor showers are there where we don’t know the comet that they come from? When are they coming back?

        1. There’s a lot of stuff in this comment that isn’t quite correct, hon. I’m concerned that you’re worrying over things that don’t necessarily warrant such anxiety.

          The San Andreas plate boundary isn’t shifting position from fault to fault for one thing. The plate boundary is what it is, and the Pacific Plate is rotating slightly, even as what’s left of the Farallon Plate subducts under the North American craton (that’s what’s subducting in the Cascadia zone). But it’s this rotation that causes the west coast of California, as well as all of Baja, to move northward relative to the rest of California. The impact of this (and many other plates through geologic history) against the North American plate has not only helped push up the various mountain ranges, it’s fractured the area pretty thoroughly. Because of the nature of the forces, most of the major fractures, aka faults, tend to be roughly parallel to the plate boundary, which can make it APPEAR that the location has shifted, but that’s not the case.

          Meteor showers don’t produce impactors; the majority of that material is dust-to-sand-grain-sized. Once in a great while, as I have one of my characters say in a Division One book, you might get something that you could skip across a pond, but it isn’t going to survive entry. It may, however, make for a spectacular fireball. But impactors do not start out as part of meteor showers. And in fact we do know the parent objects of all the major meteor showers. (Some are now considered asteroids, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t once comets; it just means that they’ve come by the Sun enough to have exhausted their volatiles.) Just because a meteor occurs during a meteor shower doesn’t mean it’s PART OF that shower, but may be a “sporadic,” a coincidental interloper, coming in from a completely different direction. Also, a “bolide” tends NOT to reach the ground, at least not in one piece. The term denotes a meteor that flares brightly during some part of its track, and this usually means that the atmospheric stresses have fractured it and it breaks up, high in the atmosphere. Unless it’s asteroid-sized, this isn’t anything to worry about.

          Yellowstone, despite the frequent clickbait headlines, doesn’t have nearly enough fluid melt in the magma chambers to erupt any time soon, and it’ll give us fair warning when it does. Ditto the other supervolcanoes around the world.

          Black holes aren’t so much of a worry; surprisingly, there’s enough indication of their presence to be able to “see” ’em coming. Dark energy is a hypothesis and is not confirmed, and is mostly a cosmological construct designed to try to make the current model work (which is one reason why I expect it to go away). We know what causes gamma ray bursters, and they have to be within X distance, AND aimed the right direction, to cause us issues. Only there ain’t. Likewise there isn’t a star large enough to supernova within danger distance of us. On and on.

          Sure, we do need to actually sit up and pay attention regarding impactors. But there’s only so much you can do, and if it’s big enough to cause global problems, we’ve probably already spotted it. The sole exception would be something like ‘Oumuamua, coming in from outside…and we saw that one coming, too. Us astronomers really do pay attention.

          No, of course we don’t know everything. But we do sit down and consider what might come out of the woodwork to bite us in the behind, and it’s my considered and educated-in-the-subjects opinion that we’re in reasonable shape, here. Take a deep breath and try to relax; those of us who take our jobs seriously are on the ball.

          1. By the by, I do know what I’m talking about on some of these other subjects. Here’s a few of my books you might want to check out, to ease your mind on the matters.

            On Yellowstone:

            1. I mention this not as challenge to your claims of authority, but as doubt about your logic: having written a book (or many books) on a topic is no guarantor of knowledge. As noted elsewhere this page, Paul Krugman has written books on economics. I could also note that Thomas Friedman has written books on international relations, Hillary Clinton has written books on strengthening families …

              Yes, your books are authoritative, interesting and entertaining — and highly recommended — but their existence is not, in and of itself, evidence of authoritative knowledge. After all, they are independently published, lacking layer upon layer of fact-checkers and editors.

              Okay, I confess: I know that was not what you’re reminder of multiple books was about; it was about encouraging Huns to enjoy your insightful instruction in complex issues. But surely you do not begrudge me the opportunity to take potshots at our presumed betters?

              1. Fair enough.
                But let me note several things.
                1) I have never claimed to be better than anybody else. I’m not, and I know it. I simply have a broad range of what, for most folks, would be considered specialized knowledge. There are other subjects about which I’m pretty stupid, and I know this. Expertise in one subject does NOT automatically make one an expert in all things.
                2) I spend literal weeks researching these subjects in as much depth as I can before ever I set a word to electronic “paper.”
                3) I was trying to calm someone that I feel has looked at many of these subjects and become afraid of what it means. I wanted him/her to understand that I’m not ignorant of the subjects on which I was speaking, and that when I say not to fear, I have some understanding of WHY. In general, while not always true (and certainly IMHO less likely to be true in other subjects/fields of expertise), a scientist who has written a popular-science book on a particular subject has spent some time in researching that subject.
                (No, I don’t consider economics a true “hard” science, but a variant on a social science.)

                1. Economics not a “hard” science?

                  Indeterminable, as its practitioners seem no more interested in rigorous testing of theorems than the astrologers of ancient Persia were eager to have their analyses tested, or “Climate Scientists” want their computer models probingly reviewed. To paraphrase a favourite Billy Wilder movie title, “Some like it soft.”

        2. What is happening along the west coast is complex, but it isn’t that the westward drift of North America is making the fault motions jump east.

          The Pacific plate is moving northwest while North America is drifting southwest. The “pull” of the Pacific plate is causing slices of the NA plate to move along with it. Like pulling a deck of cards across a felt table.

          Also, plate motions occur on a sphere and there is a geometry to describe that, invented by Leonhard Euler. Essentially, all motions on a sphere can be described as rotation around an axis. Plate motions are rotations around a Euler pole. That pole can be far away from the edge of the plate, anywhere on the sphere. Unlike a simple plane it is not possible for parallel motion to remain parallel on a sphere for any distance. Very long faults will naturally have sections which are being compressed and sections where the movement pulls each side apart.

          The San Andreas family of faults evolved over 30+ million years, and the direction of the plates has changed over that time. Sections which were once aligned with the direction of plate motion no longer line up perfectly. New faults must form to take up motion in the new direction. Movement on some faults has stopped because another fault has a better alignment, particularly in southern California. In many places no one fault is aligned just right, and motion is distributed among several faults.

          1. Excellently said. I wasn’t going to get into non-Euclidean geometries and such like, but yes, all of those are definite factors. And this has been a plate boundary region for a Very Long Time. So lots of bust-ups in the region.

  11. It’s now 2:40am here, and I have much to do tomorrow on a bum leg, including attending the successor to Con*Stellation, aka NotACon, where I’ll be doing some book readings and presenting the very talk on which this blog article was based. I’ll pop in and respond to comments and questions as best I can over the next couple days, and be ready to do it all again next week!

    Good night!

  12. Consensus isn’t science. And neither is dogmatic faith in radiometric dating. Carbon-14 on Viking corpses ended up being 1,000 years off “because they ate fish” or something. And when they tested rock layers laid down in the 1980-1982 eruptions of Mount St. Helens, they got “proof” the new rock was 2 Million years old…

    That said, what if the supposed asteroid craters were remnants of “the fountains of the deep” that produced Noah’s Flood in Genesis? One of you ought to be able to write entertaining variations on that that don’t involve demonic rocks, creepy old men, Climate Science Noah wanting to kill babies, and all the rot Hollywood produced…

    Suspend my disbelief in science fiction. Please!

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