The flow of material inside and outside a crater called Aelia on the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta is seen in this composite handout image from NASA's Dawn mission provided by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on December 16, 2013. Reuters/NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLAMPS/DLR/IDA

New research has revealed that a prehistoric asteroid nearly wiped out all mammals along with dinosaurs. New data received has also revealed that the extinction was far more catastrophic than previously believed. The prehistoric asteroid struck Earth with such force that about 93 percent of mammal species became extinct. The asteroid hit took place more than 66 million years ago in the Cretaceous period.

Scientists from the University of Bath examined fossil records and found out that the asteroid’s impact was catastrophic. Past estimates showed the impact to be less severe as the rarer species that were killed off left behind smaller fossil records. According to Dr. Nick Longrich from University of Bath, the rare species are the most vulnerable to extinction. The fossil record is biased in favour of species that survived. The study was published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.

However, the scientists also found something really striking. They found that the asteroid’s catastrophic effect on life on Earth was quickly mitigated by species recovering rapidly. In 300,000 years, the number of species on Earth doubled compared to the number that existed before the mass extinction.

“Because mammals did so well after the extinction, we have tended to assume that it didn't hit them as hard. However our analysis shows that the mammals were hit harder than most groups of animals, such as lizards, turtles, crocodilians, but they proved to be far more adaptable in the aftermath. It wasn't low extinction rates, but the ability to recover and adapt in the aftermath that led the mammals to take over,” Longrich said in a statement.

Surprisingly, after the extinction event, “there was an explosion of diversity.” This was mainly driven by different evolutionary experiments occurring simultaneously in various locations of the world. The recovery from mass extinction occurred differently in different parts of the continent. With so many species evolving in various parts of the planet, “evolution was more likely to stumble across new evolutionary paths.”