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Tuesday, February 23 at 8 p.m. NOVA "Death of the MegaBeasts"

(Rochester, NY) Fifteen thousand years ago North America was like the Serengeti on steroids, with mega-creatures roaming a continent teeming with incredible wildlife. But then, in a blip of geologic time, somewhere between 15 and 35 magnificent large types of animals went extinct. In a television exclusive, NOVA joins forces with prominent scientists to test a startling theory that may finally explain the Death of the Megabeasts, airing Tuesday, February 23 at 8 p.m. on WXXI- TV (DT 21.1/ cable 1011 and 11).

Death of the Megabeasts probes the daring idea that a comet broke apart in the atmosphere and devastated North America 12,900 years ago. In an exclusive report of tantalizing evidence supporting the theory, NOVA brings leading climate scientist Paul Mayewski of the University of Maine to the Greenland ice sheet, where he discovers an incriminating clue: microscopic diamonds that are believed to be the result of a powerful impact of extraterrestrial origin.

NOVA uses stunning computer animations to show what North America may have been like thousands of years ago, with herds of woolly mammoths, hulking saber-toothed cats, giant ground sloths and armadillo-like glyptodonts the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Also on hand were the first well-documented humans in North America, known as the Clovis people.

The conjectured comet crash was practically yesterday compared to the dinosaur-killing asteroid of 65 million years ago, which humans were not around to see. However, in this case, the Clovis people would have been there to witness the disaster unfold. While their stone tool culture vanishes from the record at this point, we have no way of knowing how these early prehistoric Americans may have been affected.

Whatever the culprit, something definitely happened to cause rapid extinctions across North America. One long-standing view is that the Clovis hunters arrived from Asia to find the North American big game easy prey for their sophisticated weaponry and hunting techniques. Within a few centuries they had wiped out the most vulnerable species.

In a program filled with exciting expeditions, strong debate and sophisticated simulations of cosmic impacts, one of the most moving moments comes when Kennett sees evidence for his theory materialize before his eyes on an electron microscope display.

“Exciting isn’t really the word,” he says, choking up. “It’s an experience you usually don’t have much in your scientific career. Moments of intense discovery are very emotional for scientists”.

Credit: Jonathan Blair/CORBIS


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