New Evidence Supports Theory of Extraterrestrial Impact

An 18-member international team of researchers that includes James Kennett, professor of earth science at UC Santa Barbara, has discovered melt-glass material in a thin layer of sedimentary rock in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Syria. According to the researchers, the material — which dates back nearly 13,000 years — was formed at temperatures of 1,700 to 2,200 degrees Celsius (3,100 to 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit), and is the result of a cosmic body impacting Earth.

hese are microscopic images of grains of melted quartz from the YDB cosmic impact layer at Abu Hureyra, Syria, showing evidence of burst bubbles and flow textures that resulted from the melting and boiling of rock at very high temperatures. (Light microscope image at left; SEM image at right.) (Credit: UCSB)

These new data are the latest to strongly support the controversial Younger Dryas Boundary (YDB) hypothesis, which proposes that a cosmic impact occurred 12,900 years ago at the onset of an unusual cold climatic period called the Younger Dryas. This episode occurred at or close to the time of major extinction of the North American megafauna, including mammoths and giant ground sloths; and the disappearance of the prehistoric and widely distributed Clovis culture. The researchers’ findings appear June 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“These scientists have identified three contemporaneous levels more than 12,000 years ago, on two continents yielding siliceous scoria-like objects (SLO’s),” said H. Richard Lane, program director of National Science Foundation’s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research. “SLO’s are indicative of high-energy cosmic airbursts/impacts, bolstering the contention that these events induced the beginning of the Younger Dryas. That time was a major departure in biotic, human and climate history.”

Morphological and geochemical evidence of the melt-glass confirms that the material is not cosmic, volcanic, or of human-made origin. “The very high temperature melt-glass appears identical to that produced in known cosmic impact events such as Meteor Crater in Arizona, and the Australasian tektite field,” said Kennett.

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