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Sixty-five million years ago, a Manhattan-size meteorite traveling through space at about 11 kilometers per second punched through the sky before hitting the ground near what is now Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. The energy released by the impact poured into the atmosphere, heating Earth's surface. Then the dust lofted by this impact blocked out the sun, bringing years of wintry conditions everywhere, wiping out many terrestrial species, including the nonfeathered dinosaurs. Birds and mammals thus owe their ascendancy to the intersection of two orbits: that of Earth and that of a devastating visitor from deep space.