How CT scans help Chicxulub Crater scientists

The Chicxulub Crater cores have had an experience that IODP expedition cores rarely are able to have.

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The Chicxulub Crater cores took a detour on their way to Germany to all have CT scans at Weatherford Labs in Houston, Texas (USA).

That large machine that kind of looks like a cross between a donut and a spaceship on 2001: A Space Odyssey is a CT scanner. It is the same kind of CT scanner you might go into, if say, you were ever playing broomball, slipped on the ice, hit your head, were knocked unconscious, woke up in an ambulance, and had a doctor at the hospital want to make sure you did not have any serious injuries to your head (well, at least that’s how I ended up in a CT scanner).

A CT scanner can take a 3D photo of the inside of an object, be it a broomball-injured brain or a Chicxulub Crater core, without actually cutting the object open. For the expedition scientists, this will be an obvious advantage for them to see what’s inside the core while still leaving the cores intact for future research.

The CT scans are also helping the scientists with the visual description of the layers of each core. The CT scans record data about the atomic numbers of elements that make up the core, as well as the core’s varying density. This data is available to the scientists as a color-coded image on a screen that they can reference as they look at the actual core.

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The CT scan data, created by Enthought, Inc in Austin, Texas (USA), assists the scientists with visual core description. 

That colorful data, along with providing a little decorative flair to the lab, helps the scientists more accurately describe what rock types and minerals are in each layer of the core. They then can better put together the story of what happened after that asteroid smashed into the Earth 66 million years ago and created the Chicxulub Crater

PS: The CT scan data can also be taken home with the scientists to use as they continue their research in their own labs. To get all the 3-dimensional data for more than 800 meters of core, all the scientists need is something that can store five terabytes, and eight to twelve hours to download all of it.

By Kevin Kurtz

Images: kkurtz@ECORD_IODP

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