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Cosmic, translucent pearls from Florida



  • For 13 years, scientists have not known where these translucent pearls came from.
  • Recent findings suggest that the beads are microtectites, a byproduct of an ancient meteorite impact.
  • These cosmic remains were encapsulated in two to three million year old shell fossils.

The researchers were discovered after sieving some old fossil shells in a quarry in Sarasota County. They found dozens of translucent glass beads that are only one pinprick smaller than a grain of sand and are probably all extraterrestrial in origin.

After careful analysis, scientists now believe that they could be "microtectites", particles that form when a meteorite explodes and its molten debris fly back into the planet's atmosphere. The final result? A crystallized substance that falls back to earth in the form of sparkling little tears or "beaded" spheres .

This discovery was surprising, as the material had been lying in a box a little longer than a decade. According to the researchers:

"… Florida is known for its fossil shells, but not for its extraterrestrial material."

Discovering the Cosmic Beads

Sometime in the summer of 2006, University of South Florida Student Mike Meyer collected shell fossils for a field research project. Down in the quarry, he was exposed to shell fossils that were a few million years old. These painted a rich picture of Florida's geological history and contained many secrets in their hardened shells.

In search of the shells of an organism called benthic foraminifera, however, he came across numerous shimmering glass beads in the fossils. They were tiny

"They really stood out, grains of sand are kind of lumpy, potato-shaped things, but I always found those tiny, perfect balls," he says.

Overall, Meyer found 83 glass beads that were perfectly preserved in southern Quahog shells. The shells themselves act as miniature time capsules of geological time.

Working with Roger Portell, Director of Inverted Paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, Meyer wanted to know more about these little bullets. However, the first answers to his inquiries left him nothing. So he packed the results and put them aside for years.

Analysis of the Microtectites

Mike Meyer / Meteoritics and Planetary Science

Finally, Meyer decided to find out again what that was. His initial hypothesis was that they were the byproduct of volcanic ash or some other kind of industrial process. However, after finding exotic trace metals, he had enough evidence to call these "pearls" safe from outer space.

"It blew me away," Meyer said.

Florida's museum and the researcher's recent scientific work point out that these are not only the first documented micro-tectites in Florida, but also the first of their kind that are found inside fossil shells.

Meyer placed all microtectites on micropaleontological slides and picked up a few. By licking a paintbrush to pick up the balls and move them to sticky spots, "he inadvertently eats some of them".

It is estimated that these cosmic orbs are between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 years old. They may have formed during a meteor impact in the Florida area.

Meyer's colleague Portell reflected: "It could be that they come from a single tctit bed that has been washed out for millennia, or it could be evidence of numerous impacts on the Florida platform that we simply do not know about. "

Meyer suspects that there are more fossils, and fossil collectors should be on guard.

Update Friday, July 26, 2019: The microtectites usually form into small drops or "pearl-shaped" spheres. Like other types of sediment, the material begins to fall off into the sea. Somehow, they were picked up by the shells and then petrified in them so that they could maintain their pearl shape for millions of years.

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