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Dinosaur detectives: Tracing the effects of the extinction-causing asteroid

New Mexico is famous for its dinosaur discoveries.

That’s why “Nova” came to the state to film part of the documentary “The Day The Dinosaurs Died.”

And producers came to talk to scientists Steve Brusatte and Tom Williamson.

Williamson is curator of Paleontology at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

“We actually took the team down to the Bisti Badlands for two days,” Williamson says. “It was a very cool thing to be a part of.”

The documentary airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 27, on New Mexico PBS Channel 5.1.

The “Nova” documentary investigates how an asteroid vanquished the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Experts have long debated exactly what happened when the asteroid struck and how the giant beasts met their end.

Now, scientists have uncovered compelling new clues about the catastrophe – from New Jersey to the wilds of Patagonia – and an international expedition of scientists has drilled into the impact crater off Mexico, recovering crucial direct evidence of the searing energy and giant tsunami unleashed by the asteroid.

The scientists piece together a chillingly precise unfolding of the Earth’s biggest cataclysm, moment by moment, and try to discover how our early mammalian ancestors managed to survive and repopulate the Earth.

Williamson says the New Mexico piece was filmed about a year ago.

“They were considering going all over the world,” he says of the producers. “They were looking at several places in North America. We have been working in the San Juan Basin. We have focused our work on what happens after the extinction; the explosion of radiation on the mammals.

Williamson started at the museum in 1994, and he’s been in New Mexico since 1986.

During that time, he’s been able to work on some amazing digs.

“Everybody that I know in the field is very envious,” he says. “I can drive up to my field area. And I get paid to go out and discover new dinosaurs and new fossils, though going out to the field has happened less and less. I spend most of my time writing grants.”

Williamson jumps at the opportunities to take part in shows like “Nova.”

“It’s really important to let the general public in on what we actually do,” he says. “A lot of our funding comes from the National Science Foundation. It’s a very significant part to convey and to teach the general public about our findings. The people help support what we’re doing.”

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email film@ABQjournal.com. Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.

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