Researchers find evidence of comet striking Earth

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

brooch
Tutankhamun (also known as King Tut) was an Egyptian pharaoh who ruled from 1332 BC to 1323 BC. This is a picture of his brooch, which contains pieces of the yellow silica glass from the comet crash!

There are several theories that explain how dinosaurs went extinct, and one of the most popular ones describes a gigantic comet that crashed violently into Earth. The explosion was so huge, it created plumes of smoke that blocked out sunlight and killed tons of animals, including dinosaurs. The problem with this theory is that no one had ever found proof for such an event… until now! An international team of scientists finally unearthed evidence for a large space rock crashing into Earth’s surface.

Before we get all excited, though, it’s probably not the one that destroyed dinosaurs. I know, kind of a letdown, but it’s still the first proof for such an event!

“Comets always visit our skies – they’re these dirty snowballs of ice mixed with dust – but never before in history has material from a comet ever been found on Earth,” says Professor David Block of Wits University. According to the researchers, it entered our planet’s atmosphere around 28 million years ago, where it exploded into a fiery mess and then crashed into the country of Egypt!

Woah, wait, if the impact occurred so long ago, how can the scientists know this happened? It’s not like they were in Egypt to watch it happen. Well, all the evidence basically tells the story itself. For example, there’s a lot of yellow silica glass over 2,400 square miles. The researchers say this happened because as the comet struck the sand, it produced around 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit of heat and melted it!

And, while the intense heat made glass, the pressure created from the crash alone made microscopic diamonds, too! “Diamonds are produced from carbon bearing material,” said Professor Jan Kramers of the University of Johannesburg. “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.”

However, the gem that really stole the attention from the team was a mysterious black pebble. After running complicated scientific tests, the researchers grew certain the black object was a comet’s nucleus (heart)!

The scientist decided to call the comet “Hypatia” after the first famous female mathematician. “Comets contain the very secrets to unlocking the formation of our solar system and this discovery gives us an unprecedented opportunity to study comet material first hand,” says Block.

Images courtesy of Wits University.