28 Jun 2019

Iridium and the end of the dinosaurs

From Elemental, 8:00 am on 28 June 2019

Iridium played an important role in a geological whodunnit – the demise of the non-avian dinosaurs.

Iridium is present at high levels in a thin band of rocks that marks the boundary between the Cretaceous and Paleogene geological periods. The theory is that the element came from a large meteor, about 10 kilometre across, the impact of which significantly changed the earth’s climate for long enough to kill all the large dinosaurs (although of course avian dinosaurs – birds – survived).

Salts of iridium are very colourful, hence the name iridium, after the Greek messenger to the Gods, Iris, who was also the Goddess of the rainbow.

Iridium is twice as dense as lead and the second densest element (after osmium). It is the most corrosion resistant metal.

It is rare and more valuable than gold, says Professor Allan Blackman from AUT.

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Photo: RNZ

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The Elemental podcast is celebrating 150 years since the periodic table was first published by Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev.

Find out more about events during the United Nation’s International Year of the Periodic Table.

Nights with Bryan Crump is also celebrating the chemical elements during their Friday night Sonic Tonic and Element of the Week.

Professor Allan Blackman is at Auckland University of Technology.