Tutankhamun is probably the most famous Egyptian pharaoh in history, but new research may add even more majesty to his story, revealing that a piece of his jewelry contains a gemstone that was created during a comet impact roughly 28 million years ago.
The lustrous yellow-green scarab gemstone at the centre of Tutankhamun's golden pectoral was carved for him from a stone dug up from the Silica Glass Field, in the Saharan Desert of Libya and Egypt. Up until now, the source of this 6,000 square km patch of silica glass deposits was unknown, but it was known that the glass was caused by a burst of intense heat. Although a meteorite impact can cause this to happen, no crater has ever been discovered in the area, so it was most likely due to something else.
A team of South African researchers believe they have the answer, though, after examining an unusual black pebble recovered from the region. This pebble, which they called 'Hypatia', was found to have microscopic diamonds embedded in it, and after a detailed chemical analysis of the rock, the researchers are convinced that what they have is the tiny remnant of a comet nucleus and the first direct evidence of a comet impact with the Earth.
"Diamonds are produced from carbon bearing material. Normally they form deep in the earth, where the pressure is high, but you can also generate very high pressure with shock. Part of the comet impacted and the shock of the impact produced the diamonds," said study lead author Professor Jan Kramers, of the University of Johannesburg, according to a press release.
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There have been a few claims over the years that comet fragments have been found, but most of the comet material collected is in the form of dust from the upper atmosphere and from the ice of Antarctica. It's highly sought after, though, since this material has largely been untouched since the dawn of our solar system. With this discovery, not only does it add to the story of every piece of jewelry made from this Libyan Desert Glass, but Hypatia may provide scientists with even more information about how our solar system formed.
(Photo courtesy: Museum of Cairo)
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