The huge asteroid that hit Earth 66 million years ago was very bad timing for the dinosaurs, a new study says—it wiped them out, but they probably would have survived if it had hit at a "more convenient" time. The impact in what is now Mexico is almost certainly to blame for the creatures' mass extinction, "but it just so happened to hit at a bad time when dinosaur ecosystems had been weakened by a loss of diversity," a paleontologist explains to the Guardian. "If the asteroid had hit a few million years earlier, or a few million years later, then dinosaurs probably wouldn't have gone extinct." At the time of the impact, there was a loss of biodiversity amid large, plant-eating dinosaurs like the triceratops, leaving fewer species for dinosaurs higher up the food chain to eat.
If it had hit at a different time, this could still be a world dominated by dinosaurs, possibly even by ones that had attained human-like levels of intelligence, the paleontologist tells the BBC. "With evolution, never say never. It is certainly possible that dinosaurs could have evolved intelligence," he says. Another expert, however, says that may be going too far. "As far as dinosaurs becoming intelligent is concerned, the experiment has been done and we call them crows," he says, predicting that dinosaurs would have been "toast" as soon as another group of animals developed intelligence and started making tools. (Meanwhile, a recent "fantastic" find has "completely changed our vision of dinosaurs.")