Forty-million years after the fall of the dinosaurs—but twenty-six million years before the rise of humanity—a meteorite exploded over the Sahara. The explosion was so fierce and hot that it turned sand to glass in an area stretching for nearly 150 square miles. In the ensuing eons, harsh winds turned much of the glass to dust, but a few remnants of this cosmically-forged glass remain in the world today. They are known simply as Libyan Desert glass.
Impactites—minerals formed by the impact of extra-terrestrial impacts—aren’t uncommon on Earth, or on other planets, but are usually accompanied by a fairly obvious crater. These events are common in the context of millions of years, but humankind’s experience observing these events is incredibly rare. It’s believed the Tunguska Event was also the result of a meteorite exploding mid-air, but scientists still only have theories as to the precise nature of these celestial explosions.
The nature of Libyan Desert Glass has both impressed and baffled humankind for millennia. Tutankhamun, popularly referred to as King Tut, ruled as Pharaoh over four millennia ago. With access to all the gold and jewels he could ever want, the rarity of a piece of space glass was incredibly tempting. A tradesman eventually appeared in the kingdom with a piece of glass born of the desert. Artisans used a process called knapping to shape the glass into a scarab—an ornament Tut used on his pectoral ornament until death.
When British explorers opened the tomb in 1922, the scarab remained a mysterious piece of Tut’s treasure. They easily identified it as glass but were baffled to learn it predated the Egyptians by so many millennia. The true origin, of course, was eventually theorized to be an exploding meteorite.