Title

Spherule layers—records of ancient impacts

Abstract

A large extraterrestrial object striking Earth at cosmic velocity melts and vaporizes silicate materials, which can condense into highly spheroidal, sand-size particles that get deposited hundreds to thousands of kilometers from the point of impact. These particles, known as impact spherules, have been detected in great abundance in a relatively small number of thin, discrete layers ranging in age from less than a million years to 3.47 billion years. Unaltered impact spherules consist entirely of glass (microtektites) or a combination of glass and crystals grown in flight (microkrystites). Impact spherule layers form very rapidly and can be very extensive, even global in extent [e.g., the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) boundary layer], so they form excellent time-stratigraphic markers. Because they are always found in a stratigraphic context, spherule layers are probably superior to terrestrial craters and related structures for assessing the environmental and biotic effects of large impacts. A record of impacts whose craters have since been obliterated, most notably those in pre-Mesozoic oceanic crust, could survive in the form of spherule layers. Secular changes in surface environments and/or the nature of the impactors striking Earth through its history could also be reflected in differences in spherules and spherule layers as a function of geologic age. In this paper, we briefly review what spherules and spherule layers are and the processes that create them, then speculate about what might be learned through wider identification of and more extensive study of impact spherule layers.

Publisher

Annual Reviews

Publication Date

5-1-2004

Publication Title

Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Science||Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Science||Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Science

Department

Geology

Document Type

Article

DOI

10.1146/annurev.earth.32.101802.120458

Language

English

Format

text

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