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Within hours, the infusion of heat and moisture blasted its way into jet streams and spawned superhurricanes that pummeled the other side of the planet.
For about a week, material ejected into the atmosphere plunged the world into darkness. Almost every culture has a legend about a great flood, and—with a little reading between the lines—many of them mention something like a comet on a collision course with Earth just before the disaster.
“Mythology can help us hypothesize about events that might have occurred,” he says, “but to prove the reality of them, we have to go beyond myths and search for physical evidence.” In 2004, at a conference of geologists, astronomers, and archaeologists, Masse outlined his evidence for a world-ravaging impact in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Ted Bryant, a geomorphologist at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, was intrigued and enlisted the help of Dallas Abbott, an assistant professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.
Among 175 flood myths, Masse found two of particular interest.
A Hindu myth describes an alignment of the five bright planets that has happened only once in the last 5,000 years, according to computer simulations, and a Chinese story mentions that the great flood occurred at the end of the reign of Empress Nu Wa.
Cross-checking historical records with astronomical data, Masse came up with a date for his event: May 10, 2807 B. On its own, the mythological evidence is weak, as even Masse recognizes.
Meanwhile, Bryant contends that chevrons found (pdf) 4 miles inland from the shore of Madagascar were formed by a wave that traveled 25 miles along the coast, moving almost parallel to the shoreline.
“Neither erosion nor any other terrestrial process could have caused these formations.