The first evidence of an ancient comet strike on Earth was discovered in Egypt year ago. However, it wasn’t until recently that scientists realized what they discovered.
Researchers conducted a series of analyses to determine that a mysterious black pebble found in the Egyptian desert is a piece of a comet nucleus. It is the first time scientists have made such a find.
NBC News reports that study lead author Jan Kramers of the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, stated of the discovery, “It’s a typical scientific euphoria when you eliminate all other options and come to the realization of what it must be.”
The small black pebble was named “Hypatia” for the ancient female astronomer, mathematician, and philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria. Researchers noted that the small rock is studded with diamonds, which makes sense after realizing it came from a comet. Kramers explained:
“Diamonds are produced from carbon-bearing material. Normally they form deep in the Earth, where the pressure is high, but you can also generate very high pressure with shock. Part of the comet impacted, and the shock of the impact produced the diamonds.”
As for when the comet strike happened? Researchers have an answer for that as well. Yahoo! News notes that study team members believe the comet crashed into Earth about 28 million years ago, heating the sand in the Egyptian desert to a temperature of 3,630 degrees. The sudden heat generated huge amounts of yellow silica glass, which spread across 2,317 miles of the Sahara Desert.
Before the origin of Hypatia was discovered, scientists assumed comets struck the Earth sometime in history. However, their only evidence was tiny dust particles in the upper atmosphere and carbon-rich dust in Antarctic ice. Because comets are leftover pieces from the formation of our solar system, the new discovery could have valuable scientific applications.
The study involving the first definitive comet strike evidence will be published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters. Three of the authors will also talk about their findings on Thursday in Johannesburg.
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