Fire on the ground: Solving the mystery of Libyan Desert Glass

FriDAY, 9 FEBRUARY

Photo: Max Alexander/Starmus.

Photo: Max Alexander/Starmus.

Fire on the ground: Solving the mystery of Libyan Desert Glass

In February, 2006, Mark Boslough participated in an expedition to Egypt to visit the site of an enigmatic natural desert glass with a film crew for the BBC documentary “Tutankhamun’s Fireball”. A piece of the glass had recently been identified in a scarab that adorned a breastplate found in King Tut’s tomb. There was little doubt that the glass was the product of an impact event, but the precise mechanism for its formation was a matter of debate. Simulations inspired by the expedition support the hypothesis that the glass was formed by heating and ablation of sandstone and sand near ground zero from a 100 megaton or larger airburst resulting from the breakup of an asteroid. The explosion was similar to the Chelyabinsk and Tunguska airbursts, but so big that the white-hot asteroid vapor cloud formed a fireball that descended all the way to the ground.

About Mark Boslough

Mark received his BS in Physics from Colorado State University in 1977 and his PhD in Applied Physics from Caltech 1983.  He was member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories from 1983 until his retirement in 2017. At Sandia, he worked on many aspects of planetary impact physics, including Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact models, formation of the Libyan Desert of Egypt, the 1908 Tunguska explosion, the 2008 TC3 airburst over Sudan, and impacts on Jupiter in 2010 and 2012. He served on the asteroid mitigation panel and coauthored the NRC report “Defending Planet Earth” in 2010.  He was the first US scientist to visit the site of the 2013 Chelyabinsk airburst, as a participant in a NOVA documentary. His simulation of that event appeared on the covers of Nature in November, 2013, and Physics Today in September, 2014. He provided information and simulations of airbursts for disaster scenarios for FEMA tabletop exercises in 2013, 2014, and 2016, and helped develop impact scenarios for Planetary Defense Conferences in Flagstaff, Arizona (2013), Frascati, Italy (2015) and Tokyo, Japan (2017). He has appeared in dozens of science documentaries and television shows.

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