Molten Roads and Airbursts

[Image: Max Ernst, “Landscape with a view of the lake and chimeras” (1940), via Archive.]

While we’re on the subject of astronomical events leaving traces in our everyday world, here’s another story, this one from November: “an airburst over the Atacama Desert 12,000 years ago melted the ground into glass,” according to new research aimed at explaining why “twisted chunks of black and green glass” lie scattered all over Chile.

The airburst—likely an exploding comet—“probably generated strong winds that flung the glass as it formed,” giving the glass an unusual “folded look.” This “folded look” suggests that “the glass had been thrown around and rolled. It was basically kneaded like bread.”

Given that this was only 12,000 years ago, it’s not impossible that some of it was witnessed by human beings; either way, the immediate aftermath would have been astonishing to behold, a 50-mile line of molten sand, warped and roiling like the sea, forming spheres and waves, freezing and shattering, a road of glass disappearing with an eerie glow over the desert horizon.

In fact, imagine such an event occurring in, say, the Middle East around the same time, thus forming the basis for bizarre future folklore, legendarily strange Biblical scenes, tales of molten glass roads appearing in a flash from the sky.

(Max Ernst painting included here purely for illustrative effect. Circumstantially relevant: Brainglass.)

3 thoughts on “Molten Roads and Airbursts”

  1. Puts me in mind of Ubar – the ruins of which lie somewhere in the Rub’ al Khali. Ubar, also known as Iram of the Pillars, was destroyed by an airstrike from God 6,000 years ago. Its vitreous aftermath might have been the source of al-Ḥajaru al-Aswad, the Black Stone in the Kaaba.

  2. …now try parting that sea…

    But you can definitely walk on it. Very carefully, but you can. I also just finished reading Metazoa, by Peter Godfrey-Smith, and as a result have spent nights and nights looking at photos and videos or glass sponges. Which would be the natural inhabitants of a sea of glass.

    1. I love this. Who’s to say there aren’t seas of liquid silicon on high-pressure planets where glass never hardens, and creatures tunnel, rather than swim, pushing themselves through bizarre tidal bulges and folds…

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