What Happened in the Seconds, Hours, Weeks After the Asteroid Hit Tellus?

  No one could have seen the catastrophe coming. Dinosaurs stalked each other and munched on lush greens as they had for time out of mind. Pterosaurs soared in the air, mosasaurs splashed in the seas, and tiny mammals scurried through the forest on what was just another day. Elves studied various arcane energies, Dwarves created something beautiful, and humans wandered around aimlessly, as usual.   Then the world changed in an instant. A chunk of extraterrestrial rock over 6 miles wide slammed into what would eventually become known as Pax's Chipwood Peninsula. The shock was a planet-scale version of a flintlock's bullet. Tellus would never be the same again.   But what actually happened on the day the asteroid struck? By sifting through the rock record, experts are putting together a nightmarish vision of one of the worst days in the history of our planet.   Some of the damage is easy to assess. The crater created by the impact is over 110 miles in diameter, a massive scar half covered by the Frigide Sea. But the devil is in the geological details at places around the world, such as signs of a massive tsunami around the coast. The impact struck with so much force and displaced so much water that within 10 hours an immense wave tore its way along to the entire coast.   What settled out is a geologic mess: ocean sand on what would have been dry land, and fossils of land plants in areas that should have been the ocean, in a mixed up slurry of ancient sediment. In the part of the world where the tsunami struck, these layers mark a violent boundary between the last day of that age and the Times of Toil.   Not that the effects were limited to the area of impact. The blast was enough to cause geologic disturbances, such as earthquakes and landslides, as far away as the The Empire of the Sun, 'Tolmec' —which in turn created their own tsunamis.   As dangerous as the waves were to life in the western hemisphere, however, the heat was worse.   When the asteroid plowed into Tellus, tiny particles of rock and other debris were shot high into the air. Geologists have found these bits, called spherules, in a 1/10-inch-thick layer all around the world.   “The kinetic energy carried by these spherules is colossal, about 20 million megatons total or about the energy of a supervolcano exploding at six kilometer intervals around the planet,” says The Bardic College Campus geologist Doug Robertson. All of that energy was converted to heat as those spherules started to descend through the atmosphere 40 miles up, about 40 minutes after impact. As Robertson and colleagues wrote in a paper titled “Survival in the First Hours of the Age of Toil”: “For several hours following the Chipwood impact, all of Tellus was bathed with intense infrared radiation from ballistically reentering ejecta.”   Tellus became a world on fire. The friction of falling made each spherule an incandescent torch that quickly and dramatically heated the atmosphere. Any creature not underground or not underwater—that is, most of Humanity, Elvendom and many other terrestrial organisms—could not have escaped it. Animals caught out in the open may have died directly from several sustained hours of intense heat, and the unrelenting blast was enough in some places to ignite dried-out vegetation that set wildfires raging.   On land, at least, much of the sentient life may have been wiped out in a matter of hours. The heat pulse and its after-effects alone severely winnowed back life’s diversity. But the situation turned out to be even more dire. Tiny spherules (about three hundredths of an inch thick) were found on Teotachetlan Isle. As they fell back to Tellus they would have heated the atmosphere and bathed all living things in intense heat, according to Professor David A. Kring. “The climate impact was enormous,” Robertson says. “Dust and soot from the impact and fires would have created an ‘impact winter’ with zero sunlight reaching the surface of Tellus for a year or so.” Geologists can see this directly as a thin layer of soot that coincides with the layer between the ages before and after the impact.   Organisms that had somehow managed to survive the intense heat and fires now faced a new threat. “Loss of sunlight would have eliminated the phytoplankton base of almost all aquatic food chains and caused complete collapse of aquatic ecosystems,” Robertson says, and terrestrial plants were likewise denied precious sunlight for photosynthesis.   Taking a census of the damage is difficult, partially, Robertson says, because humans get a disproportionate amount of attention. Pollen and plankton, Robertson points out, actually provide a more refined picture of what happened in the wake of the impact. Nevertheless, the available fossil record shows that about 75 percent of known species completely disappeared, and things probably weren’t rosy for the survivors. “It’s is reasonable to suppose that the 25 percent of surviving species had near-total mortality,” Robertson says, but these fortunate organisms were the ones that would go on to set the stage for the next age of the world.   The Bardic College Campus's scientists will continue to pore over the details. Who could resist one of the greatest murder mysteries of all time? But there’s something else that keeps pulling our attention to that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day all those years ago. We celebrate humans for their long-standing dominance of the planet, taking them up as totems of success. But if they could be so nearly and irrevocably destroyed, then we could also suffer the same fate. By looking at the ancient record of worldwide death, we face the mortality of our species and the question of what our long term survival might demand of us.


An asteroid, or meteorite to be more precise, impacted Tellus  at Pax's Chipwood peninsula, very nearly wiping out the Human, and taking at least half of the Elves.

Historical Basis

This actually happened, and folklore the world around reflects this. Nobody but the Dwarves even believe it ever happened.


This story, in all its variations, can be found the world around, even unto The City of the Lights on the far side of the world.

Variations & Mutation

In most of them, the humans are only saved from destruction by the intervention of 6 powerful creatures. Some say dragons, other say gods, a few even interpret it with titans for some reason. But they are all about the same event.

Cultural Reception

Every point on the globe has a story that can easily be traced back to the Chipwood Impact.

In Literature

There are countless fictions, treatises, short stories, geological dissertations and references.

In Art

It is referenced in many famous, and not so famous, paintings and sculptures. Many mosaic bath scenes depict it.
Date of First Recording
3550TK, a cuneiform tablet found at Teotachetlan Isle
Date of Setting


Author's Notes

This is an adaptation of an article originally read in Smithsonian Magazine online, at: The fantastic word-smithing is by Riley Black

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