The Fireball of Tutankhamun

The extraordinary story of how a mysterious gem in one of Tutankhamun’s necklaces led to the discovery of a dramatic new cosmic threat.  Italian archaeologist and geologist Vincenzo de Michele was walking through the Egyptian Museum in Cairo when he spotted a strange, unidentified, yellow-green stone in a piece of jewellery recovered from Tutankhamun’s tomb. When he applied for permission to test the gem, he discovered that it was in fact a type of glass. What’s more, he was able to show that the glass was of natural origin, and came from a remote location in the middle of the Great Sand Sea in the Egyptian Sahara. But how and why was this mysterious and beautiful glass scattered about in this area of the desert? 

On a mission to solve this riddle were Egyptian geologist Aly Barakat, Austrian astrochemist Christian Koeberl and American impact physicist Mark Boslough. Koeberl carried out further tests on the glass and established that it was formed at a temperature so hot there could only be one known cause – a meteorite impacting with Earth. And yet there were no signs of an impact crater. A critical clue came from the forests of Siberia. In 1908 a massive explosion flattened 80 million trees in Tunguska. Although there was no sign of a meteorite impact, scientists now think an extraterrestrial object of some kind must have exploded above Tunguska. Could a similar aerial burst have produced enough heat to turn the ground to glass in the Egyptian desert?

On returning to the US, Boslough was able to load all the known data into supercomputers to reveal that a meteorite could indeed generate a blistering fireball, creating surface temperatures of 1800 degrees Celsius, and leaving behind a field of glass. Furthermore, he now predicts that such events could happen as frequently as every hundred years, and that the effect of even a small airburst would be comparable to many Hiroshima bombs. Over a densely populated area this would evidently be devastating: casualties could easily run into millions. 

Shot in HD. Distributor: DCD Rights/TV6

 
 

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