T-U-V

IMPACT CRATER/STRUCTURE GLOSSARY

by: Charles O’Dale

The petrographic and geochemical study of actual rocks from the potential impact structure will bring final confirmation of the presence of an impact structure. In case of a structure that is not exposed on the surface, drill-core samples are essential. Good materials for the recognition of an impact origin are various types of breccia and melt rocks. These rocks often carry unambiguous evidence for the impact origin of a structure in the form of shocked mineral and lithic clasts or a contamination from the extraterrestrial projectile.

TAGAMITE

Russian term for IMPACT MELT ROCK.

 

TARGET ROCKS

Area and rocks exposed to the impacting projectile, sometimes called country rock.

 

TEKTITE

Natural, silica-rich, homogeneous glasses produced by complete melting and dispersed as aerodynamically shaped droplets during terrestrial impact events. The process of tektite formation is disputed, but many researchers believe that they are formed in the early contact and compression stage of impact cratering. They range in color from black or dark brown to gray or green. Tektites have been found in  “strewn fields” on the Earth’s surface.

Tektites are small, glassy pebble-like objects that form during meteorite impact. They represent droplets of molten target rock that are ejected up into the Earth’s atmosphere, which then fall back to the surface up to several hundred kilometers from where their source impact crater. They often acquire aerodynamic shapes as they fly through the atmosphere.

The name tektite comes from the Greek word ‘tektos’, meaning ‘molten’. Tektites do not contain any water. They can be mistaken for obsidian or pitchstone (black volcanic glasses), but these will emit some water on strong heating. Their density is similar to, or a little lighter than, quartz beach sand.

The K-T Tektites

One of the most exciting and important scientific findings in decades was the 1980 discovery that a large asteroid, about 10 kilometers diameter, struck the earth at the end of the Cretaceous Period. The collision threw many tons of debris into the atmosphere and possibly led to the extinction of the dinosaurs and many other life forms. The fallout from this enormous impact, including shocked quartz and high concentrations of the element iridium, has been found in sedimentary rocks at more than 100 locations worldwide at the precise stratigraphic location of the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary (Alvarez and Asaro 1990; Alvarez 1998). We now know that the impact site is located on the Yucatan Peninsula. Measuring the age of this impact event independently of the stratigraphic evidence is an obvious test for radiometric methods, and a number of scientists in laboratories around the world set to work.

In addition to shocked quartz grains and high concentrations of iridium, the K-T impact produced tektites, which are small glass spherules that form from rock that is instantaneously melted by a large impact. The K-T tektites were ejected into the atmosphere and deposited some distance away. Tektites are easily recognizable and form in no other way, so the discovery of a sedimentary bed (the Beloc Formation) in Haiti that contained tektites and that, from fossil evidence, coincided with the K-T boundary provided an obvious candidate for dating. Scientists from the US Geological Survey were the first to obtain radiometric ages for the tektites and laboratories in Berkeley, Stanford, Canada, and France soon followed suit. The results from all of the laboratories were remarkably consistent with the measured ages ranging only from 64.4 to 65.1 Ma (Table 2). Similar tektites were also found in Mexico, and the Berkeley lab found that they were the same age as the Haiti tektites. But the story doesn’t end there.

The K-T boundary is recorded in numerous sedimentary beds around the world. The Z-coal, the Ferris coal, and the Nevis coal in Montana and Saskatchewan all occur immediately above the K-T boundary. Numerous thin beds of volcanic ash occur within these coals just centimeters above the K-T boundary, and some of these ash beds contain minerals that can be dated radiometrically. Ash beds from each of these coals have been dated by 40Ar/39Ar, K-Ar, Rb-Sr, and U-Pb methods in several laboratories in the US and Canada. Since both the ash beds and the tektites occur either at or very near the K-T boundary, as determined by diagnostic fossils, the tektites and the ash beds should be very nearly the same age, and they are (Table 2).

There are several important things to note about these results. First, the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods were defined by geologists in the early 1800s. The boundary between these periods (the K-T boundary) is marked by an abrupt change in fossils found in sedimentary rocks worldwide. Its exact location in the stratigraphic column at any locality has nothing to do with radiometric dating — it is located by careful study of the fossils and the rocks that contain them, and nothing more. Second, the radiometric age measurements, 187 of them, were made on 3 different minerals and on glass by 3 distinctly different dating methods (K-Ar and 40Ar/39Ar are technical variations that use the same parent-daughter decay scheme), each involving different elements with different half-lives. Furthermore, the dating was done in 6 different laboratories and the materials were collected from 5 different locations in the Western Hemisphere.

Brent Dalrymple, Radiometric Dating Does Work! Reports of the National Center for Science Education

TEKTITE STREWN FIELDS

Tektites often occur in so-called strewn fields, areas over which tektites with similar chemical and physical properties are found.
Several Australasian tektites (from Thailand), showing the variety in shapes and forms. Tektites are distal impact ejecta, which formed by total melting of continental crustal target rocks (source crater still unknown, although a large crater in Western Cambodia, Lake Tonle Sap, has been proposed)..
Chicxulub Impact structure spherules (microtektites) are abundant components of the K-T boundary that encircles the Earth. They are less than 0.5mm in diameter and consist mostly of Ni-bearing magnesioferrite spinel crystals (at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa).
Darwin glass is a natural glass found south of Queenstown in West Coast, Tasmania. It takes its name from Mount Darwin in the West Coast Range, where it was first reported, and later gave its name to Darwin Crater, a probable impact crater, and the inferred source of the glass.
Ivory Coast (linked to the Bosumtwi crater in Ghana, West Africa)
The origin of Libyan Desert glass is uncertain. Meteoritic origins have long been considered possible, and recent research links the glass to impact features, such as zircon-breakdown, vaporized quartz and meteoritic metals, and to an impact crater. Some geologists associate the glass with radiative melting from meteoric large aerial bursts, making it analogous to trinitite created from sand exposed to the thermal radiation of a nuclear explosion. Libyan Desert glass has been dated as having formed about 26 million years ago.
Moldavite is an unusual type of tektite with a beautiful translucent green clarity. The moldavites are tektites derived from the Ries impact structure, German. Moldavite is a special term coming from German and means ‘Vltava River Stone’.
The age of the 85-kilometer-diameter Chesapeake Bay impact structure (35 million years old)  and the composition of some of its breccia clasts are consistent with the structure being the source of the North American tektites.