The data seem to back the idea that an impact tipped the climate into a colder phase, a point of current debate.

Rapid climate change occurred 12,900 years ago, and it is proposed that this is associated with the extinction of large mammals - such as the mammoth, widespread wildfires and rapid changes in atmospheric and ocean circulation.

All of these have previously been linked to a cosmic impact but the theory has been hotly disputed because there was a lack of clear evidence.

New platinum measurements were made on ice cores that allow conditions 13,000 years ago to be determined at a time resolution of better than five years, report Michail Petaev and colleagues from Harvard University. Their results are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A 100-fold spike in platinum concentration occurs in ice that is around 12,890 years old, at the same moment that rapid cooling of the climate is indicated from oxygen isotope measurements. This coincides with the start of a climatic period called the "Younger Dryas".

The Younger Dryas started and finished abruptly, and is one of a number of shorter periods of climate change that appear to have occurred since the last glacial maximum of 20,000 years ago.

Each end of the Younger Dryas period may have involved very rapid changes in temperature as the climate system reached a tipping point, with suggestions that dramatic changes in temperature occurred over as short as timescale as a decade or so.