Mysterious glass pieces discovered all over Chile’s Atacama Desert: Researchers reason why

Fareeha Arshad
Photo byPhoto by Giorgio Parravicini on Unsplash

Around a decade ago, scientists discovered a mysterious field of glass fragments scattered across Chile's Atacama Desert, aligned in a vast corridor stretching 75 kilometres long. These strange pieces of glass are clustered in several sites along the desert corridor, and they take many shapes, some occurring in large slabs up to 50 centimetres across. Scientists say they have rough and smooth features and look like they have been folded and twisted into their current forms.

In a recent study, researchers collected and studied over 300 samples of desert glass and confirmed that glass is not wholly of this planet.

According to the researchers, the extraterrestrial space rock hypothesis is the more likely explanation. The minerals in the glass, called zircons, had decomposed to form another compound that would have required extremely hot temperatures, beyond 1,600°C – that is far hotter found on the planet.

In addition, researchers discovered several exotic mineral grains in glass fragments that are rarely found on Earth. They are only known to occur in meteorites and other extraterrestrial rocks. Some strange minerals like extraterrestrial cubanite, as found in the comet Wild 2, were also found in the samples.

It is too early to say for sure, but whatever the long-gone object created these strange fields of glass in the Atacama desert, it might have borne some relation to Wild 2, at least in terms of its composition.

Another coincidence that bears further investigation is that the timing of this airburst broadly overlaps with the disappearance of Quaternary megafauna in South America, which coincides with the arrival of ancient hunter-gatherers in the area, and climate changes as well.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I mostly write about history and science.

Texas State

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