Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

65-Million-Year-Old Asteroid Impact Triggered a Global Hail of Carbon Beads

07.05.2008
The asteroid presumed to have wiped out the dinosaurs struck the Earth with such force that carbon deep in the Earth's crust liquefied, rocketed skyward, and formed tiny airborne beads that blanketed the planet, say scientists from the U.S., U.K., Italy, and New Zealand in this month's Geology.

The beads, known to geologists as carbon cenospheres, cannot be formed through the combustion of plant matter, contradicting a hypothesis that the cenospheres are the charred remains of an Earth on fire. If confirmed, the discovery suggests environmental circumstances accompanying the 65-million-year-old extinction event were slightly less dramatic than previously thought.

"Carbon embedded in the rocks was vaporized by the impact, eventually forming new carbon structures in the atmosphere," said Indiana University Bloomington geologist Simon Brassell, study coauthor and former adviser to the paper's lead author, Mark Harvey.

The carbon cenospheres were deposited 65 million years ago next to a thin layer of the element iridium -- an element more likely to be found in Solar System asteroids than in the Earth's crust. The iridium-laden dust is believed to be the shattered remains of the 200-km-wide asteroid's impact. Like the iridium layer, the carbon cenospheres are apparently common. They've been found in Canada, Spain, Denmark and New Zealand.

But the cenospheres' origin presented a double mystery. The cenospheres had been known to geologists only as a sign of modern times -- they form during the intense combustion of coal and crude oil. Equally baffling, there were no power plants burning coal or crude oil 65 million years ago, and natural burial processes affecting organic matter from even older ages -- such as coals from the 300-million-year-old Carboniferous Period -- had simply not been cooked long or hot enough.

"Carbon cenospheres are a classic indicator of industrial activity," Harvey said. "The first appearance of the carbon cenospheres defines the onset of the industrial revolution."

The scientists concluded the cenospheres could have been created by a new process, the violent pulverization of the Earth's carbon-rich crust.

Geologists do believe the Earth burned in spots as molten rock and super-hot ash fell out of the sky and onto flammable plant matter. But the charcoal-ized products of these fires only appear in some places on Earth, and are more often found near the asteroid impact site of Chicxulub Crater, just west of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Some geologists had thought all carbon particles resulting from the impact was ash from global scale forest fires, but the present research strongly contradicts that assumption.

The scientists examined rock samples from eight marine locations in New Zealand, Italy, Denmark and Spain. They also examined carbon-rich particles from five non-marine locations in the U.S. and Canada. Following chemical and microscopic analysis, the researchers concluded the particles were carbon cenospheres, similar to the ones produced by industrial combustion.

The scientists also found that the farther the sample site was from the Chicxulub Crater, the smaller the cenospheres tended to be. That observation is consistent with the expectation that particles were produced by the asteroid impact, since once the particles are ejected, heavier particles should fall back to Earth sooner (and travel shorter distances) than lighter particles.

Last, the scientists estimated the total mass of carbon cenospheres ejected by the asteroid collision, assuming a global distribution, to be perhaps as much as 900 quadrillion kilograms. Whether or not the carbon cenospheres are truly ubiquitous, however, needs further corroboration.

"There are still clues to unravel about the events occurring around the time of the impact," Brassell said. "And there are aspects of the Earth's natural carbon cycle that we didn't previously consider."

Harvey is interested in the unique properties of the cenospheres themselves. "Perhaps we can generate and study carbon cenospheres to better understand them," he said. "We also need to look for the cenospheres in other parts of the world and also around the time of other extinction events."

Harvey conducted the research while he was a master's student at IU Bloomington. He is now a geoscientist for Sinclair Knight Merz in New Zealand. Claire Belcher (University of London) and Alessandro Montanari (Coldigioco Geological Observatory) also contributed to the study. It was funded by the Geological Society of America, the Indiana University Department of Geological Sciences, and the Society for Organic Petrology.

To speak with Harvey, please e-mail MHarvey@skm.co.nz. To speak with Brassell, please contact David Bricker, University Communications, at 812-856-9035 or brickerd@indiana.edu.

David Bricker | newswise
Further information:
http://www.indiana.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht NASA examines newly formed Tropical Depression 3W in 3-D
26.04.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Early organic carbon got deep burial in mantle
25.04.2017 | Rice University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Link Discovered between Immune System, Brain Structure and Memory

26.04.2017 | Life Sciences

New survey hints at exotic origin for the Cold Spot

26.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA examines newly formed Tropical Depression 3W in 3-D

26.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>