Beads known to geologists as carbon cenospheres were formed from liquefied carbon deep in the earth when an asteroid struck some 65 million years ago, according to a new theory.
The carbon cenospheres were deposited next to a thin layer of the element iridium -- an element more likely to be found in Solar System asteroids than in the Earth's crust. The iridium-laden dust is believed to be the shattered remains of the 200-km-wide asteroid's impact. Like the iridium layer, the carbon cenospheres are apparently common. They've been found in Canada, Spain, Denmark and New Zealand.
But the cenospheres' origin presented a double mystery. Cenospheres had been known to geologists only as a sign of modern times -- they form during the intense combustion of coal and crude oil. Equally baffling, there were no power plants burning coal or crude oil 65 million years ago, and natural burial processes affecting organic matter from even older ages -- such as coals from the 300-million-year-old Carboniferous Period -- had simply not been cooked long or hot enough.