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First Evidence Found of a Comet Strike On Earth

samzenpus posted about 6 months ago | from the big-boom dept.

Space 68

mdsolar writes in with a story about evidence of a comet explosion over Egypt 28 million years ago. "Saharan glass and a brooch belonging to King Tut provide the first evidence of a comet directly impacting Earth, a new study claims. The finding may help unlock some of the mysteries surrounding the birth of our solar system. About 28 million years ago a comet exploded over Egypt, creating a 3600F (2000C) blast wave that spread out over the desert below. The fiery shockwave melted the sand, forming copious amounts of yellow silica glass scattered over 2,300 square miles (6,000 square kilometers) of the Sahara. Polished into the shape of a scarab beetle, a large piece of this glass found its way into a brooch owned by the famed Egyptian boy king Tutankhamen. 'Because there is no sign of an impact crater, it has been a mystery as to what kind of celestial event actually could have caused this debris field, but a small, black stone found lying in the middle of the glass area caught our attention,' said study co-author David Block, an astronomer at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa."

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68 comments

More information (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45120255)

Re:More information (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45120303)

Warning! Goatse! Do not click!

Re:More information (2, Funny)

fisted (2295862) | about 6 months ago | (#45122335)

Oh, really. Thank you AC for pointing this out, the ,,[goatse.cx]'' totally made me believe it was a legit link.

Re:More information (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45122851)

Oh, really. Thank you AC for pointing this out, the ,,[goatse.cx]'' totally made me believe it was a legit link.

What an appropriate username you have there.

Not necessarily. (3, Informative)

C0R1D4N (970153) | about 6 months ago | (#45120265)

Tunguska [wikipedia.org] is believed by some to be a comet not an asteroid, and since this is hardly confirmed, this is therefore the second "possible comet strike" recorded.

Re:Not necessarily. (1)

Redmancometh (2676319) | about 6 months ago | (#45120333)

Either way we got lucky with Tunguska. I wonder if the next large airburst like that will hit a city.
It would be absolutely horrible...
But the fringe benefit of our space budget multiplying overnight?

Re:Not necessarily. (3, Funny)

C0R1D4N (970153) | about 6 months ago | (#45120685)

Maybe it will hit a joint session of congress.

Re:Not necessarily. (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 6 months ago | (#45124355)

They'd be so stoned they wouldn't even notice. (Hah! Did I just make a double pun there?)

Re:Not necessarily. (3, Insightful)

Kethinov (636034) | about 6 months ago | (#45121591)

We didn't get lucky. The vast majority of the surface of the Earth is either not populated or extremely sparsely populated. The odds are strongly against such a large airburst happening to burst over any reasonably densely populated area.

Re:Not necessarily. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45124723)

What, you mean someplace like Chelyabinsk?

Re:Not necessarily. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45122151)

Considering the overall surface area of Planet Earth, cities offer a very tiny target. Very small chance of hitting one, the Armageddon movie notwithstanding.

Re:Not necessarily. (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 6 months ago | (#45124343)

I wonder if the next large airburst like that will hit a city.

You don't have to wonder, I think that maps and probability theory ought to serve you well. As in, we're not in the Trantor stage yet.

Re:Not necessarily. (1)

Redmancometh (2676319) | about 6 months ago | (#45127701)

I was under the impression that 7-11% of the Earth's landscape was inhabited. Even avoiding a 5% chance of an awful disaster counts as "lucky" to me.

Re:Not necessarily. (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 6 months ago | (#45130659)

Isn't there a difference between "inhabited" and "being a part of a city"? If half of the world lived in places with, say 500+ people per square km (quite generous for a definition of what is "urbanized area"), it would make something like 1,5% of total Earth's surface area. The definitions probably make this more than a little bit fuzzy, but if a large body hits Earth, the chances of hitting an urban area directly are tiny. The environmental effects would me much more severe - for everyone, not just for the neighbors.

Re:Not necessarily. (1)

Redmancometh (2676319) | about 6 months ago | (#45140687)

A city is just an organizational unit. As far as I know pretty much any place inhabited with people has a name for their area. I didn't however think to make the distinction between villages and cities.

I should have put inhabited. I just meant that it was incredible that Tunguska only killed one person considering the energy and radius of the blast. Also a 1.5% chance to take out a very large number of people seems pretty high to me. Scientists that do incredibly high-level statistical calculations have their eyes on apophis and it's only a 1 in a million chance according to neo.jpl's risk assessment update from 2013. Granted, it's a "little" bit bigger.

Re:Not necessarily. (1)

AC-x (735297) | about 6 months ago | (#45130989)

If you RTFA you'll find it's a bit more than "hardly confirmed":

A tiny slice of the black pebble was put through isotopic analysis, which definitely ruled out that it came from a meteor. Instead, the analysis showed that the pebble possessed the unique chemical signature of a comet, measured in terms of elements such as argon and carbon.

Occam's razor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45120297)

Maybe the Pharaohs actually evolved on Mars and landed on Earth. Because heavy rocks and hieroglyphics.

Re:Occam's razor (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 6 months ago | (#45120369)

History Channel 2 (H2) has a new season of "Ancient Aliens" starting this month

Re:Occam's razor (3, Funny)

unimind (743130) | about 6 months ago | (#45120449)

Yeah, I don't know what they're talkin about with this "comet". They already figured out where that glass came from. There's obviously no other possible explanation: It was made by the extreme heat from the rocket thrusters of some sort of spacecraft... or possibly a nuclear explosion caused by the aliens.. But that's it. Those are the only two possible explanations.

There are no mysteries in Egypt. (1)

GhigoRenzulli (1687590) | about 6 months ago | (#45120375)

David Block should see Stargate SG-1. Everything is explained there. Too bad they left Abydos so soon.

Update? (5, Informative)

Dunbal (464142) | about 6 months ago | (#45120403)

'Because there is no sign of an impact crater, it has been a mystery as to what kind of celestial event actually could have caused this debris field'

Are these people dim-witted? We had firsthand video footage of what happens when a big chunk of rock burns into the atmosphere. You get a huge multi-megaton blast like in Chelyabinsk as the meteorite breaks apart due to wanting to move faster through the atmosphere than the air can actually move out of the way... This blast IS NOT NECESSARILY THE IMPACT SITE [wikimedia.org]. It would be a rare thing for a meteorite to be headed perpendicular to the earth's surface. Extrapolating this mechanism to even larger chunks of rock, you'd expect fused sand and little lumps of meteorite, but you wouldn't expect to see the main part of the meteorite where the sand is. That thing landed far away from the blast site. Same for Tunguska - they never found anything because the "crater" is the epicenter of the shock wave, not the actual impact with the ground. All these theories of mysterious "evaporating comets" should be re-evaluated in the face of this new, modern evidence.

Re:Update? (5, Insightful)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 6 months ago | (#45120521)

Are these people dim-witted?

One lesson I learned from the game of Go: "If a conclusion depends on the experts being dumb or incompetent, your conclusion is most probably a step the experts already took into account and dismissed as part of their reasoning."

This applies to a lot of fields of science.

Re:Update? (3, Insightful)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 6 months ago | (#45120675)

Unfortunately, it only rarely seems to apply to politics.

Re:Update? (4, Insightful)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 6 months ago | (#45120843)

For politics there's the alternative:
"If a conclusion depends on the politician being dumb or incompetent, your conclusion is most probably a step the politician already took into account and dismissed in favor of another one that includes more cash in his pocket."

Re:Update? (2)

steelfood (895457) | about 6 months ago | (#45123595)

That's exactly it. The question is not, do they even know what they are doing. The question is, what are their motivations. And public service is not a motivation for anybody in the field.

Once you realize that politics is a way for charismatic but otherwise useless individuals to earn a living, then the reasoning behind their actions are clearer. They're functionally no different than used car salesmen, conmen, investment bankers, or MBA's, and serve little other purpose than to leech off society (or in the case of the MBA, the business) while making busy to justify their own existence.

We need an Ark B, and fast.

Re:Update? (1)

bob_super (3391281) | about 6 months ago | (#45123745)

Bob's Political Razor: "Of two similarly plausible explanations for a politician's action, the most cynical is usually true."

--
I call dead presidents by their first names, before they get into my pants

Re:Update? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45121227)

Are these people dim-witted?

One lesson I learned from the game of Go: "If a conclusion depends on the experts being dumb or incompetent, your conclusion is most probably a step the experts already took into account and dismissed as part of their reasoning."

I really don't care if they dismissed it- if they have not addressed it in their paper, they have not done their due diligence and as part of Science our due diligence is to call them out for it.
In this case, it's the parent post who is dim-witted for not just reading the article. If he had, he would have noticed that they concluded it was a comet because they DID find part of the thing which blew up, and it has a chemical signature which more closely matches a comet than a meteor.

Re:Update? (1)

Vitriol+Angst (458300) | about 6 months ago | (#45121449)

At first the prior post "Are these people dim-witted? " seemed to make sense.

Then I thought for 30 more seconds and realized; if there is an "explosion" of a comet, doesn't that means the energy of that event "blows up" the comet? It's not like skipping a stone across a pond, because the water isn't exploding when the rock makes its little hops. So yes, you should see debris from the comet in a trajectory from the point of the explosive impact of the air (or whatever) if there is enough energy to cause a 3600 F shockwave, even if the asteroid is coming in at an angle. Of course, it it were a fullerine carbon diamond, maybe it might have skipped...

Thanks for the helpful note: "If a conclusion depends on the experts being dumb or incompetent, your conclusion is most probably a step the experts already took into account and dismissed as part of their reasoning." That should help a lot of experts feel a great relief that casual bloggers spending less than 30 seconds of thought on an issue are going to discover they were clueless.

Re:Update? (1)

bruce_the_loon (856617) | about 6 months ago | (#45121001)

If you actually bothered to read the article and absorb the information presented, you will see why they ruled out a meteor air-burst. The small stone they recovered from the tektite region did not match stony or iron meteorite material, but cometary material. Therefore they concluded the object that detonated in the air above the tektite region was a comet, not a meteor.

Re:Update? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45122745)

Now, tell us why? The article didn't approach the subject.. Maybe they missed the next obvious step and progressed to their fanciful conclusion? What if their logical process led to a wrong answer? could there be another logical answer? for someone sounding so arrogantly, elucidate? for those who are not of the process. or have majors in other fields of study. Tells me you missed a lot of classwork, for fieldwork on lonely vigils.

Re:Update? (1)

justthinkit (954982) | about 6 months ago | (#45121225)

It would be a rare thing for a meteorite to be headed perpendicular to the earth's surface
.

I realize this is slightly off-topic to this thread, but I witnessed something a few years back that was probably this. Two of us were on our backs watching the night sky when we both saw something glow, expand into a "light circle" maybe half as wide as a full moon, then go away -- all in about one second.

It had the "timing" of a 'shooting star', but it did not have the arc.

I tried searching on Google to see if this had just happened in the area (i.e. other witnesses). Realized I didn't know what it was called. Hard to search. Gave up.

The other much more remote possibility is that we witnessed a supernova somewhere (slightly supported by how perfectly circular the flash was as it grew). Other than these two, I'm stumped.

Is there a name for this? How common/rare is it?

Re:Update? (1)

justthinkit (954982) | about 6 months ago | (#45121281)

One other thing I realized some time later is that, had this been a 'shooting star', we could have been watching something that then hit us. Sobering. I realize the probabilities are ridiculously low, but still they are (were) there.
.

This was no hallucination either. Perfectly clear night. Plenty of other stars, and 'shooting stars' visible. Both of us saw it. No alcohol or equivalent involved.

Re:Update? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45121767)

I realize this is slightly off-topic to this thread, but I witnessed something a few years back that was probably this. Two of us were on our backs watching the night sky when we both saw something glow, expand into a "light circle" maybe half as wide as a full moon, then go away -- all in about one second.

It's possible you were close to being in-line to an inbound meteor (even if it didn't hit the ground), another possibility might be an iridium flare [wikipedia.org]?

Re:Update? (1)

justthinkit (954982) | about 6 months ago | (#45123287)

Yes, I think we had a meteor headed toward us. Fortunately it appears to have been small enough to not bonk us on the nose.
.

Iridium flares is a possibility. This one was perfectly circular, however, unlike the examples on that wiki page.

Re:Update? (2)

MaskedSlacker (911878) | about 6 months ago | (#45125903)

Swamp gas refracting the light from Venus? Definitely not a supernova though. Those last much longer than a second. One that flashed that brilliantly would have lasted a long while and would have been widely reported. For comparison, SN 1054, which formed the Crab Nebula, was visible to the eye for two years (according to Chinese records).

Re:Update? (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 6 months ago | (#45122179)

Maybe they're not idiots, but being scientists rather than Slashdot commenters they were unwilling to jump to specific conclusions on the basis of "look at teh youtubes, morans" and block caps?

Re:Update? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45125051)

Ancient Italian folklore tells about divine chariots of fire lighting up the ground. The impact site is speculated to be at the Alps, buried into a side of a mountain. Even the path of the comet in the sky wouldn't therefore be novel.

Response from US military commanders (4, Funny)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 6 months ago | (#45120441)

Really? The whole middle east and north Africa turned into a sheet of glass instantaneously?
Tell me more about this "comet strike" you are proposing...

Re:Response from US military commanders (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45122249)

Really? The whole middle east and north Africa turned into a sheet of glass instantaneously?
Tell me more about this "comet strike" you are proposing...

That means that oil is not the most abundant material in the middle east. Under the sand is a lifetime supply of glass for the whole planet!

So did it impact or explode? (2)

gravis777 (123605) | about 6 months ago | (#45120529)

In the headline, it impacted, first sentence it exploded, Second it impacted, fourth it exploded.... So did it impact or explode in the atmosphere? Or did the explosion result in chunks impacting?

Re:So did it impact or explode? (1)

disposable60 (735022) | about 6 months ago | (#45121023)

Or did the explosion result in chunks impacting?

To call sand-grain-sized remnants 'chunks' may be a scaling error, but yeah - BANG! -> rain of particulates, likely near-microscopic, over rather a large area.

Re:So did it impact or explode? (1)

Vitriol+Angst (458300) | about 6 months ago | (#45122733)

The quick answer -- again with 30 seconds of thought on the matter; is both.

It impacted the air and exploded above the ground.

Could have been fine burning through the stratosphere, but then it hit that heavy cloud, smog or a duck -- whatever it was, it was the last straw for that asteroid...

Desert 28 Million Years Ago? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45120951)

Far as I was aware even a few thousand years ago the Sahara was meant to be have been somewhat green with the change caused by the Himalayas rising. Maybe wrong but I'm sure 28 million years ago it wasn't a desert so why is there fused sand?

Re:Desert 28 Million Years Ago? (4, Informative)

stjobe (78285) | about 6 months ago | (#45121047)

Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] is only a few key-presses away, you know:

The climate of the Sahara has undergone enormous variations between wet and dry over the last few hundred thousand years.[15] This is due to a 41000 year cycle in which the tilt of the earth changes between 22 and 24.5.[16] At present (2000 AD), we are in a dry period, but it is expected that the Sahara will become green again in 15000 years (17000 AD).
During the last glacial period, the Sahara was even bigger than it is today, extending south beyond its current boundaries.[17] The end of the glacial period brought more rain to the Sahara, from about 8000 BC to 6000 BC, perhaps because of low pressure areas over the collapsing ice sheets to the north.[18]

(emphasis mine)

Re:Desert 28 Million Years Ago? (1)

stillnotelf (1476907) | about 6 months ago | (#45121235)

I had the same thought...but the problem is, you're off by many orders of magnitude. From TFS, the comet was 28 million years ago; Wikipedia was discussing climate on the order of tens of thousands of years. No dice.

Re:Desert 28 Million Years Ago? (1)

devent (1627873) | about 6 months ago | (#45127281)

I think there is a 41000 year cycle. 28 million years ego would be -682 cycles, because that's an even number, 28 million years ego was a dry cycle like today.

Re:Desert 28 Million Years Ago? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45122821)

Thank you! That was bothering me too. Was the Sahara a desert for over 28 million years? Weren't we spreading through there just a milliion years ago?

Conspiracy theorists won't like this! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45121525)

You know the ones who were using this glassy substance to 'prove' nuclear weapons were used on Earth in bygone days.

Cheers!

Strike (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45122215)

The comets formed a union and demanded more money.

Seriously NG? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45122827)

3600F? 2300 square miles? Those numbers seem awfully specific. Oh, I see, you just pulled them out of your ass...

Maybe next time you can be even more precise and put 64120320000 square feet instead?

Re:Seriously NG? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45123651)

Maybe next time stop using shitty measuring units.
Face it, You might as well measure with furlongs, firkins and fortnights.

The blast turning sand into glass (1)

Stan92057 (737634) | about 6 months ago | (#45124165)

The blast turning sand into glass makes since. Our "USA" first atomic bomb blast created a sheet of glass under the blast. So comet/asteroid is a tossup could have been either or both.
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