Comet Strike: Evidence From 28M Years Ago Found in Egypt Desert

Thursday, 10 Oct 2013 07:53 AM

By Michael Mullins

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There is evidence of a comet strike in Egypt's Sahara Desert, a team of scientists announced Tuesday.

A mysterious diamond-studded black pebble named "Hypatia" has been extensively analyzed since it was first found by an Egyptian geologist in 1996. Scientists believe the pebble belongs to a piece of a comet nucleus, the first of its kind ever discovered on earth, NBC News reported.

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"It’s a typical scientific euphoria when you eliminate all other options and come to the realization of what it must be," study lead author Jan Kramers of South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand said in a statement.

"Diamonds are produced from carbon-bearing material," Kramers added. "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."

The comet strike is believed to have occurred 28 million years ago over Egypt, exploding in the earth's atmosphere at such a high temperature that sand below it exceeded 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit, producing large amounts of yellow silica glass throughout the Sahara Desert.

Distinguishable from asteroids by their tail, comets are primordial bodies comprised of the same fundamental building blocks that were responsible for the formation of planets billions of years ago.

With the exception of microscopic dust particles in the upper atmosphere and some carbon-rich dust found in Antarctic ice, there are no other known remnants of comets that have struck the earth, according to the researchers.

"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," professor David Block at South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand said.

"NASA and ESA [European Space Agency] spend billions of dollars collecting a few micrograms of comet material and bringing it back to Earth, and now we've got a radical new approach of studying this material, without spending billions of dollars collecting it," Kramers added.

On Thursday, three of the study's coauthors will discuss their findings in a public lecture at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. The study itself will be published in the upcoming issue of Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

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Related stories:

Comet Ison Images Captured by Hubble Give Deep-Space Perspective

NASA Loses Contact with Comet Probe

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