First Definitive Proof of a Comet Striking Earth Millions of Years Ago
Science & Technology

First Definitive Proof of a Comet Striking Earth Millions of Years Ago

An artist’s rendition of the comet exploding in Earth’s environment above Egypt (credit score: Terry Bakker)

A group of scientists has found the primary definitive proof of a comet putting Earth tens of millions of years in the past.

The primary ever proof of a comet coming into Earth’s environment and exploding, raining down a shock wave of fireplace which obliterated each life type in its path, has been found by a group of South African scientists and worldwide collaborators, and will likely be offered at a public lecture on Thursday.

The invention has not solely offered the primary definitive proof of a comet putting Earth, tens of millions of years in the past, however it might additionally assist us to unlock, sooner or later, the secrets and techniques of the formation of our photo voltaic system.

“Comets all the time go to our skies – they’re these soiled snowballs of ice blended with mud – however by no means earlier than in historical past has materials from a comet ever been discovered on Earth,” says Professor David Block of Wits College.

The comet entered Earth’s environment above Egypt about 28 million years in the past. Because it entered the environment, it exploded, heating up the sand beneath it to a temperature of about 2,000 levels Celsius, and ensuing within the formation of a enormous quantity of yellow silica glass which lies scattered over a 6,000 sq. kilometer space within the Sahara. An impressive specimen of the glass, polished by historical jewelers, is present in Tutankhamun’s brooch with its putting yellow-brown scarab.

The analysis, which will be published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, was performed by a collaboration of geoscientists, physicists and astronomers together with Block, lead creator Professor Jan Kramers of the College of Johannesburg, Dr Marco Andreoli of the South African Nuclear Power Company, and Chris Harris of the College of Cape City.

On the heart of the eye of this group was a mysterious black pebble discovered years earlier by an Egyptian geologist within the space of the silica glass. After conducting extremely subtle chemical analyses on this pebble, the authors got here to the inescapable conclusion that it represented the very first recognized hand specimen of a comet nucleus, slightly than merely an uncommon sort of meteorite.

Kramers describes this as a second of profession defining elation. “It’s a typical scientific euphoria whenever you eradicate all different choices and are available to the conclusion of what it should be,” he stated.

The affect of the explosion additionally produced microscopic diamonds. “Diamonds are produced from carbon bearing materials. Usually they type deep within the earth, the place the strain is excessive, however it’s also possible to generate very excessive strain with shock. Half of the comet impacted and the shock of the affect produced the diamonds,” says Kramers.

The group have named the diamond-bearing pebble “Hypatia” in honor of the primary well-known feminine mathematician, astronomer and thinker, Hypatia of Alexandria.

Comet materials may be very elusive. Comet fragments haven’t been discovered on Earth earlier than besides as microscopic sized mud particles within the higher environment and a few carbon-rich mud within the Antarctic ice. Area businesses have spent billions to safe the smallest quantities of pristine comet matter.

“NASA and ESA (European Area Company) spend billions of {dollars} accumulating a few micrograms of comet materials and bringing it again to Earth, and now we’ve obtained a radical new method of finding out this materials, with out spending billions of {dollars} accumulating it,” says Kramers.

The examine of Hypatia has grown into a world collaborative analysis program, coordinated by Andreoli, which entails a rising quantity of scientists drawn from a selection of disciplines. Dr Mario di Martino of Turin’s Astrophysical Observatory has led a number of expeditions to the desert glass space.

“Comets include the very secrets and techniques to unlocking the formation of our photo voltaic system and this discovery offers us an unprecedented alternative to check comet materials first hand,” says Block.

Publication: Jan D. Kramers, et al., “Distinctive chemistry of a diamond-bearing pebble from the Libyan Desert Glass strewnfield, SW Egypt: Proof for a shocked comet fragment,” Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Quantity 382, 15 November 2013, Pages 21–31; doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2013.09.003

Picture: Terry Bakker

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