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

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What killed the dinosaurs? For many years, this question has been one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in science. Then in 1980, a radical theory was proposed: 65 million years ago, an asteroid or comet as big as Mt. Everest, traveling at 100,000 miles per hour, struck the earth, throwing up a dust cloud that darkened the sky, caused the temperature to plummet, and killed the dinosaurs and 70 percent of all other species. Night Comes to the Cretaceous is the first comprehensive and objective account of how this fantastic theory changed the course of science. The author, Director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History tells the dramatic story of how Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez and his son Walter stumbled onto evidence suggesting that a single random event caused the extinction of the dinosaurs - a claim many scientists found unbelievable. After years of bitter debate and intense research, an astonishing discovery was made - an immense impact crater buried deep in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico that was identified as Ground Zero. The unbelievable appeared to be true.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Powell is the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, and taught geology at Oberlin College for 20 years. In 1980, a physicist father and his geologist son rocked the scientific world by their proposed theory that dinosaurs became extinct because of an impact by an asteroid or comet. Powell recounts the bitter debates over Luis and Walter Alvarez's idea and years of intense research that followed, culminating in the discovery of a gigantic crater deeply buried in the Yucatan Peninsula, which seemed to prove the probability that science and evolution are punctuated by random events. The author's presentation of the dramatic events surrounding the controversy, the bitter refutations, and, finally, acceptance of the Alvarez theory is fascinating by itself. But Powell also examines the equally interesting factors that inhibit science from making paradigm shifts. Some formulas and terminology are designed for specialists in the field, but the overall content here is geared to general readers and is utterly engrossing. [Interested readers may also want Walter Alvarez's own account, T. Rex and the Crater of Doom, LJ 6/15/97.--Ed.]--Gloria Maxwell, Kansas City P.L., MO
Drawing on information from many various disciplines, Powell (Director of Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History) explains how the cataclysmic-collision theory of dinosaur extinction came about and the scientific melee that ensued. He discusses the evidence that an impact caused the extinction and explains how the theory has played a vital role in the development of modern geology. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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 Prize'winning 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 moreso 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)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780716731177
  • Publisher: Freeman, W. H. & Company
  • Publication date: 5/16/1998
  • Series: Extinction of Dinosaurs Series
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 268
  • Sales rank: 546,737
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Table of Contents

Prologue: The Greatest Mystery
Pt. I Bolt from the Blue
Ch. 1 The Alvarez Discovery 3
Ch. 2 The Past as Key to the Present 23
Ch. 3 Stones from the Sky 35
Pt. II Was There a K-T Impact?
Ch. 4 Theory on Trial 55
Ch. 5 Counterattack 67
Ch. 6 The Volcanic Rival 85
Ch. 7 To Catch a Crater 97
Pt. III Did An Impact Cause the K-T Mass Extinction?
Ch. 8 Clues from the Fossil Record 125
Ch. 9 A Whimper or a Bang? 143
Ch. 10 The Death of the Dinosaurs 159
Pt. IV The Transformation of Geology
Ch. 11 Are All Mass Extinctions Caused by Collision? 183
Ch. 12 Are Extinction and Cratering Periodic? 199
Ch. 13 Geology's Golden Age 211
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  • Posted August 20, 2011

    This is how science really works - not consensus, just the facts.

    J.L. Powell has crafted a very readable and compelling tale of geologic sleuthing, intrenched conventional wisdom, and the triumph of insight and determination in investigating one of geology's greatest puzzles - what killed the dinosaurs?

    Should be mandatory reading for advanced high school/intro college courses in earth science. Should also be mandatory reading for every politician who blathers on about the significance of "consensus science", because that term is an oxymoron and leads to exquisitely wretched legislation. This book chronicles the contributions of "young Turks and outsiders" to the advancement of science.

    In the end, the hypothesis that explains more of the facts wins out and moves the science forward - not the hypothesis that is accepted by the "vast majority" of specialists.

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