Space & Innovation

Glass Beads in Australia Point to Huge Asteroid Hit

Australian scientists have found evidence of a huge asteroid they say slammed into Earth some 3.46 billion years ago.

Australian scientists have found evidence of a huge asteroid they say slammed into Earth some 3.46 billion years ago - making it the second oldest known to have hit the planet and larger than the one blamed for wiping out the dinosaurs.

Andrew Glikson, from the Australian National University's Planetary Institute, said that while the asteroid would have been massive, the exact location of where it hit was not known.

"The impact would have triggered earthquakes orders of magnitude greater than terrestrial earthquakes, it would have caused huge tsunamis and would have made cliffs crumble," he said in a statement.

Large-ish Meteor Hits Earth... But No One Notices

"Material from the impact would have spread worldwide."

Speaking to AFP on Wednesday, Glikson said he and Arthur Hickman from the Geological Survey of Western Australia had found tiny glass beads called spherules, which are formed by vaporized material from an asteroid's impact, in Australia's remote northwest.

They were discovered in a sediment layer originally on the ocean floor and which had been preserved between two volcanic layers. It dates from 3.46 billion years ago.

"It is the second oldest known," Glikson said of the asteroid, which was estimated to have been at least 20 kilometers (12 miles) across and to have created a crater hundreds of kilometers wide.

Photos: Russian Meteor Strike Aftermath

This makes it larger than the giant asteroid that collided with Earth some 66 million years ago and is widely blamed for the demise of the dinosaurs. That asteroid is estimated to have measured around 15 kilometers wide.

Tests on the beads found in Western Australia found levels of elements such as platinum, nickel and chromium corresponding with those found in asteroids, according to the scientists' paper in Precambrian Research.

Glikson said while the find was evidence of the second oldest asteroid to hit Earth, there may have been other similar impacts that have yet to be discovered because asteroid craters from the period have been obliterated by volcanic activity and tectonic movements.

Two Meteors Hit Ancient Earth at Same Time

"This is just the tip of the iceberg. We've only found evidence for 17 impacts older than 2.5 billion years, but there could have been hundreds," he said in the statement.

"Asteroid strikes this big result in major tectonic shifts and extensive magma flows. They could have significantly affected the way the Earth evolved."

Researchers are learning details about asteroid impacts going back to the Earth's early history by extracting precise information from tiny spherules embedded in layers of rock.

Dozens of videos of the Russian meteor were uploaded to Youtube soon after impact on the morning of Feb. 15, 2013, many of which originated from vehicle dashboard cameras (or "dash cams"). During the morning commute many drivers saw the bright orb grow and explode in the atmosphere. The resulting shock wave caused windows to blow out over a huge area injuring over 1,000 people -- mainly cuts and minor concussions.

The fireball light was as bright as a second sun for a brief moment before it broke up over the Urals region of Russia.

As seen in this CCTV footage, the meteor created its own shadows as it exploded during the morning commute.

The meteor contrail hung over the Urals city of Chelyabinsk, about 900 miles east of Moscow, for some time after impact.

A white contrail left by the meteor break-up over Chelyabinsk.

A building damaged by the meteor shock wave in the town of Kopeisk, Chelyabinsk Region. The windows were blown out by the powerful shock wave generated by the hypersonic meteor.

Damage to a pancake bar caused by the shock wave of a meteor in the town of Kopeisk, Chelyabinsk Region.

Damaged caused to the office of a local newspaper in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk by the shock wave of the meteor.

A shopper walks past a broken shop window caused by the meteor explosion over the Urals city of Chelyabinsk.

The meteor traveled faster than sound in the upper atmosphere, creating a powerful sonic boom that slammed into the populated Urals region -- the foce of the blast blew out windows and caused structural damage to some buildings.

Damage caused by the shock wave of a meteor that passed above the Urals city of Chelyabinsk on Feb. 15, 2013.

Bricks from a factory wall knocked down by the force of the meteor shock wave litter a street in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk.

A collection of small meteorite fragments found in the snow after the Feb. 15, 2013 airbust event.

A man holding meteorite fragments found near the Chebarkul Lake.

Detail of one of the suspected meteorite fragments recovered from Russia's Chelyabinsk region.

Replacing broken window panes destroyed by the shockwave from the meteor airburst, at Uralskaya Molniya ice rink.

Replacing broken window panes destroyed by the shockwave from the meteor airburst, at Uralskaya Molniya ice rink.

Replacing windows in the freezing Chelyabinsk region are a priority for the Russian authorities.

A woman replaces a window damaged by the shockwave of the meteorite fall in Chelyabinsk, Russia, Feb. 16, 2013.

Residents wait for a bus in a street in Chelyabinsk, Russia, Feb. 16, 2013, as life in Russia's Chelyabinsk Region returns to normal after Friday's meteor explosion.