Thirteen years ago, mysteriously looking glass beads were discovered inside of ancient clam shells and now new evidence has revealed their origin. Researchers believe that the glass pearls are microtektites which are byproducts of a meteor impact. This is, however, the first time that they’ve been found inside of old clam shells.
While more research needs to be conducted on these celestial pearls, it is believed that they were created when a meteorite smashed into the Florida coast approximately 2 or 3 million years ago. “This is the first report of microtektites in Florida and one of only a few findings of space debris found in the state,” Mike Meyer, who is a researcher at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, explained to Gizmodo. He is also the lead author of the study that was published in Meteoritics and Planetary Science.
So how exactly were they formed? The glass beads were created during the impact of when a meteor struck the planet. “When a large enough impact occurs, the impactor – a meteorite or comet or what not – mostly vaporizes, but so does the rock and soil it hits,” Meyer explained, adding, “Most rocks are composed of minerals that contain silica, so there is a lot of it to melt. That melted debris flies away from the impact site and cools as it travels through the air, usually giving it an aerodynamic shape of some sort.”
After the materials cool off in the atmosphere, they drop back to the ground. While the larger pieces (tektites) are mostly in the shape of teardrops, the smaller pieces (microtektites) are round. The pieces eventually end up in the water and they get collected inside of clam shells where they remain preserved.
Interestingly enough, it was Meyer and his classmates that originally found the glass beads at a Sarasota County quarry thirteen years ago. They found a total of 83 of the tiny glass pearls that measured just 200 micrometers in diameter.
Now, over a decade later, he and his colleagues decided to analyze the glass pearls. They studied them using scanning electron microscopy, back-scatter imaging, and x-ray spectroscopy in order to find out what they were made from. They even compared them to other microtektites, cosmic spherules (micrometerorites), and volcanic rocks.
They ruled out volcanic rock because the shape and composition wasn’t right and they concluded that there was no way that a human could have contaminated the beads as they were closed off inside of fossilized clams for millions of years. The only possible explanation is that they were microtektites that were formed from “the debris created by an impact event,” Meyer stated.
What’s even more interesting is that the microtektites were discovered at four different sedimentary depths which could suggest that several impacts occurred there. The researchers plan on conducting more studies on these incredible otherworldly glass beads as well as searching for more of them along the coast of Florida. Pictures of the microtektites can be seen here.