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Origins of glass shards in the Chilean desert explained

 

A theory has now been proposed for how shards of glass first discovered a decade ago in a South American desert were formed.

In 2012 scientists discovered late Pleistocene glassy slabs in the Atacama Desert, located in northern Chile.

Shards of glass were found along a 75km north-south corridor, near and southward of the Chilean town of Pica.

The glass appeared sporadically in large numbers, grouped together across many sites along the desert corridor in multiple sizes and consistencies.

The leader of the study, author and planetary geologist Peter Schultz, a professor emeritus from Brown University in Rhode Island, USA said “many have morphologies indicative of sliding, shearing, twisting, and rolling, folding (in some cases more than twice) before fully quenched”.

Currently, there is no clear explanation as to why the violent, messy transformation occurred about 12,000 years ago.

The scientist’s early hypothesis states that the discovery of glass shards could be due to a large meteor explosion within the atmosphere.

This explosion could have resulted in a large airburst launching fragments of hot, fiery space rock landing on the desert surface with the extra-terrestrial shrapnel, melting the sand and soil instantly (forming the glass).

The ambitious theory has been further validated by mysterious glass remnants similar to those found in Chile that have been linked to potential meteoric explosions or impacts.

Scientists believe that Atacama’s glass shards could have been formed in the furnace of natural surface fires in different climate periods and ages when the desert was covered in vegetation.

“This is the first time we have clear evidence of glasses on Earth that were created by the thermal radiation and winds from a fireball exploding just above the surface,” Schultz said.

After collating 300 samples of desert glass, the scientists have stated that the extra-terrestrial space rock hypothesis is a highly probable explanation.

Thousands of exotic mineral grains were detected within the glass fragments, making them some of the rarest discovered on earth.

This discovery has convinced scientists the glass shards are not wholly from this planet.

“It is too soon to say if there was a causal connection or not,” Schultz continued.

“But what we can say is that this event did happen around the same time as when we think the megafauna disappeared.”

Further analysis can be found in the report published in Geology.

By Atara Thenabadu

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