Pardon Me, Is That An Asteroid On Your Finger?


The oldest rocks on Earth are zircon crystals. These highly refractive gemstones are often used to imitate diamonds or cubic zirconias in jewelry. Geologists have now announced the results of a study that has determined that zircons are quite possibly remnants of an ancient asteroid collision with Earth.

Other than simply having the pleasure of knowing you may have a bit of outer space asteroid glittering on your finger or about your ears, neck or wrist, what good is this information? Well, for one thing it dispels the previous theory that zircons were created by tectonic plate upheavals. But, more importantly, it helps scientists understand climate change. Yes, you heard the gringa right, climate change. A rock’s origins can often indicate what was going on with water on the planet at the time the rock was formed. Since zircon’s are produced by asteroids, Earthlings can also learn about the part of the cosmos that it originated from.

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin (Ireland) collected crystals from an impact crater that is considered “young”. Scientists wanted to compare the “young” crystals with older crystals from the Sudbury crater in Ontario, Canada. Sudbury is the best preserved impact crater on Earth and is about two billion years old.

The samples were taken to Stockholm’s “Swedish Museum of Natural History”.  Comparisons  concluded that the older crystals were the same as the younger ones. This then disproved the argument that the ancient zircon crystals could not have formed at the time the impact occurred. So, now we know that they could and probably did, making zircons the oldest rocks on Earth, as old as four billion years old which is the age of the oldest impact crater on our planet. The researchers also believe this supports the narrative that early Earth saw many more asteroid impacts than in its later life.

So, what this new determination tells mankind is that about four billion years ago an asteroid slammed into Earth. The crystals were able to form because water was present. Best estimates place the Earth’s age at four and a half billion years old so logic would assume then that it has always been a watery planet.  And what’s the big deal about an old, watery Earth?

Well, for one thing, water was required for life as we know it today to have evolved. But, the new discoveries about the crystals still does not solve the mystery of how life originated on planet Earth in the first place. And there are many theories on this subject that argue their own merits. Here are a few:

Electrified Primordial Soup – This school of thought believes that in the beginning of Earth’s life as a planet there was a life-giving electrical shock to the planet, such as lightning, that interacted with the ammonia, hydrogen and water on the planet. Lightning would deliver more than just a jolting electrical shock. The atmosphere, being filled with ammonia, hydrogen and water, would react with the electricity and create amino acids and sugars. These are the building blocks of microbial life.

Clay – A Scottish chemist has offered the theory that mineral crystals in clay is where all life began. He believes it is possible that clay, possibly at the bottom of the sea, was the perfect surface for molecules to organize themselves into patterns of amino acids and proteins which would later become DNA. Once the DNA evolved independently it no longer needed the clay medium but could organize itself on its own.

Hydrothermal Vents – Even now ocean biologists discover ecosystems surrounding hydrothermal vents deep within the Earth’s oceans that are teeming with life. Concentrations of molecules and minerals exist with the rocks surrounding these vents interacting with the hydrogen rich molecules provided by the vents action.

Panspermia – The hitchhiking life surviving the impact of an asteroid with Earth is yet one more possibility. If this theory is true, then the puzzle of the origins of life is not really to be worked out here on Earth, but to be solved by traveling the cosmos to find where it came from out there.

Although the many theories of how life originate on Earth are quite varied in their ideas, they all have one common thread… water. That would mean if the original microbes that evolved into humans over billions of years originally came from somewhere in outer space, to discover or “home planet”, Earthlings have to study planets that either have water now or had it at some time in their own history. By understanding this, a person then can understand the inspiration behind every space mission and why the space agencies of the world want to travel ever farther. They are not looking for little green men. They are looking for little molecules of water or ice. And one day, we may all call home a rock that exists in another galaxy or solar system.

 

Sources:  www.redorbit.com

www.geology.gsapubs.org

www.livescience.com

Image credits:  www.en.wikipedia.org

www.alluregems.blogspot.com

Hiking Cochiti Pueblo’s Tent Rocks


If you ever find yourself near Albuquerque, New Mexico with a free day on your hands, you should spend that time at the Pueblo de Cochiti, specifically at the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks. It is an unforgettable landscape that is absolutely breathtaking. The fifty-five mile drive north is well worth it to explore this beautiful plateau that is expertly painted by nature.

The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is located on the Pueblo de Cochiti. The people of the Pueblo speak their native language, Keres and live their cultural heritage with no private employers or private economic enterprise. Their claim to fame is stunning handcrafted jewelry, beautiful pottery, and artistic native drums. The primary source of revenue for the Cochiti people are lease agreements with private investors of residential units on Lake Cochiti. The Cochiti people live in the heart of their original homeland and consider responsible management of the land, air and water of the reservation of primary importance because it enables them to maintain their cultural traditions.

The Bureau of Land Management considers the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument to be an outdoor laboratory of nature. Agents study the geologic processes that continually take place to shape this unusual landscape. A visit is incomplete without hiking the trails. They are quite rugged so wear proper hiking boots, unlike the gringa who wore cute little sandals. When the caveman and the gringa made their trip, it was a day after some heavy rains. Often, along the trail, there would be puddles of water or the trail would be muddy. Usually I could go around. In the image above, the caveman and I had reached a spot where the trail was so narrow and muddy, my only option was to crabwalk the rock walls to go over. So, if you do plan to be cute rather than practical, be sure to take a hiking buddy who can give you a hand over the muddy spots.

Also take lots of water, pack a picnic and make sure you have plenty of gas in the car. There was one little cafe about fifteen minutes away but, being a mom and pop operation, if the day was slow, they would just close up shop early. There’s no guarantee you can resupply if you have a need. So, arrive at Tent Rocks fully prepared. Also note that no pets are allowed in the park and there are no exceptions. Don’t make the mistake of showing up with Fido in the car on a hot day and realize you can’t stay. Rather than suffer that disappointment, leave Fido at the hotel.

These unusual rock formations are the result of volcanic activity from the Jemez volcanic field that happened millions of years ago. Pumice, ash and other debris piled up about 1,000 feet thick. The cone rock formations occurred when fiery rock fragments were violently flung down the slopes of the volcanoes, like an avalanche of fire. This is called a pyroclastic flow.

A fascinating feature of these formations are caps on top of many of the cones. Huge boulders precariously balance atop the formations. It made the gringa imagine the child of a giant race playing little games with rocks to see how many he could get to stay and not fall. These cap rocks are actually protective to the earthen cone, protecting it from erosion. The tents that have lost their caps are disintegrating. Some of the tent rocks reach as high as ninety feet.

The caveman and I chose the “long” trail to hike and, after an hour and a half of hiking, finally made it to the uppermost peak. The view was fabulous and well worth the effort. Once again he found it fascinating that throughout all the mud on the trails, clambering over rocky obstacles and jumping down from rugged ledges, when we finally returned to the car my cute little flip flops were still shiny like new and the gringa didn’t even have a streak of dust on her black leggings. He believes I must possess some form of magical powers. The gringa thinks the power was only within the earth we were exploring. Maybe that power likes me as much as I appreciate it and responds with some kind of enveloping magical aura to keep me clean! Yes, my imagination ran away with me while hiking that conically hypnotic fairyland landscape.