Dinosaurs might still be roaming the Earth if the celestial object that smashed into the present-day Gulf of Mexico had hit almost anywhere else on the planet. By hitting the rocky terrain of the Yucatan Peninsula about 65 million years ago, however, the impact sent the soot into the air that would trigger a chain reaction and lead to mass extinction.

Even with the impressive 5.6-mile diameter of the object, believed to be an asteroid, that caused the event, the odds that it would have wiped out the dinosaurs were only 13%, the Japanese scientists Kunio Kaiho and Naga Oshima have found, according to new research they published on Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports.

“They were unlucky,” Kaiho told Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

Gambling with extinction

Impacts on this scale are rare enough, but the object that initiated what scientists call the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event happened to also hit an area rich in hydrocarbon and sulfate. The force of the impact heated the materials, “forming stratospheric soot and sulfate aerosols and causing extreme global cooling and drought,” the scientists report in the paper. German scientists have also speculated on the significance of the site of impact.

More: Bandit-masked, feathered dinosaur hid from predators and prey using camouflage

 

“The amount of hydrocarbon and sulfur in rocks varies widely, depending on location,” the scientists found; 87% of the Earth’s surface did not harbor enough of these deposits.

“The site of asteroid impact, therefore, changed the history of life on Earth,” the scientists wrote.

The presumed site of the collision on the Yucatan is a subterranean, partially submerged crater about 180 kilometers…