Scientists have solved the mystery of a vast area of ​​the Atacama Desert covered in molten glass


November 3, 2021 16:59 GMT

An international group of researchers has determined that the origin of the phenomenon is the explosion of a comet 12,000 years ago.

About a decade ago, scientists turned their attention to a mysterious 75-kilometre strip covered in molten glass shards in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

The mystery surrounding the heat is so intense that it burned the sandy soil in the area and turned into slabs of silicate glass that had just been removed by study Conducted by researchers from the United States and Chile and published on November 2 in the Journal of Geology.

According to the authors, the intense heat that gave rise to this phenomenon is due to a comet explosion about 12,000 years ago – near the end of the Ice Age – just above the region. The article states that twisted and curved sections of silicate glass up to 50 cm wide “concentrated in certain areas of the Atacama Desert near Pica indicate simultaneous and intense eruptions in the air near the surface of the Earth.”

In their study, the researchers note that the desert glass samples contain small fragments of minerals that are often found in rocks of extraterrestrial origin. These match the composition of the material brought by NASA’s Stardust mission, which sampled particles from a comet called Wild 2, according to release Issued by Brown University (USA), involved in the investigation.

Scientists suggest that these minerals fell into the desert after the explosion of a comet that melted its sandy surface.

“This is the first time we have clear evidence of glass on Earth from thermal radiation and fireball winds that have exploded just above the surface,” said Pete Schultz, professor emeritus in the Department of Earth and Environment. The Planetarium of the American University.

The scientist, who denied previous assumptions that the shards of glass were the result of ancient grass fires, said that the area was not always a desert.

Detailed chemical analysis of dozens of samples taken from glass deposits across the region, which was conducted jointly with the Fernbank Science Center in the US, the University of Santo Tomas and the Chilean Geology and Mining Service, found that minerals called zircon were thermally decomposed to form another mineral called baddeleyite.

Schultz explained that this transition from one metal to another generally occurs at temperatures above 1,650 degrees Celsius, which is a much higher heat level than traditional grass burning can generate.

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