Plant Biodata Found Stored in Impact Glass From Asteroid and Comet Impacts

Posted on April 20, 2014

Ancient plant data preserved in molten glass


Plant biodata has been found stored in molten glass created by asteroid and comet impacts from millions of years ago. Researchers from Brown University announced they have found fragments of leaves and preserved organic compounds lodged inside glass created by a several ancient impacts in Argentina. The material can provide a snapshot of the environmental conditions during the time of impact. The researchers say similar impact glasses on Mars may be a great place to search for signs of ancient life on the planet.

Brown geologist Pete Schultz, the head of the research team, says in a statement, "We know these were major impacts because of the shocked minerals trapped inside with plant materials. These glasses are present in different layers of sediment throughout an area about the size of Texas."

The researchers found exquisitely preserved plant matter in glass associated with impacts from 3 million years ago and 9 million years ago. The glass samples contain centimeter-size leaf fragments, including intact structures like papillae. The researchers say bundles of vein-like structures found in several of the glass samples are very similar to modern pampas grass, a species common to that region of Argentina.

Schultz says, "These glasses preserve plant morphology from macro features all the way down to the micron scale. It's really remarkable."

A BBC News report has a video showing electron microscope images of preserved fragments of plants found in the impact glass. The research report was published here in the journal Geology.

Photo: Brown University