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Comet Impact Theory at the End of the Ice Age is False

First Posted: May 13, 2014 12:00 PM EDT

At the end of the Ice Age, there was a return to near glacial conditions called the Younger Dryas. While some sicentists believed that it was caused by a comet hitting Earth, though, new evidence reveals that something else must have happened entirely.

The Younger Dryas, which was a brief episode at the end of the Ice Age, sparked widespread cooling of the Earth about 12,800 years ago. This particular cool period lasted for about 1,000 years. Exactly how this abrupt cooling happened, though, has remained a mystery. Some believed that it could have been caused by a cosmic impact or changes in ocean circulation patterns.

In previous studies, scientists believed that deposits of sediments discovered from around the time period could have only been created by a cosmic impact. The new research, though, revealed that nearly all sediment layers purported to be from the Ice Age at 29 sites in North America and on three other continents were either much younger or much older.

In fact, the researchers found that the chronological results from many of the sites were neither reliable nor valid as a result of significant statistical flaws in the analysis, the omission of ages from the models, and the disregard to statistical uncertainty. This means that previous studies failed to properly date sites and, therefore, it's highly unlikely that a cosmic impact was the cause of the Younger Dryas.

"The supposed impact markers are undated or significantly older or younger than 12,800 years ago," stated the authors of the new study in a news release. "Either there were many more impacts than supposed, including one as recently as 5 centuries ago or, far more likely, these are not extraterrestrial impact markers."

The findings don't offer an explanation for this period of time and what might have occurred. However, they do cross one theory off of this list, taking scientists one step closer to discovering what actually happened.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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