FIREBALL ORIGIN OF THE PICA GLASSES, ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE
At Núñez and Chipana localities, clusters of glasses occur in patches (up to 10 m x 20 m) are scattered over a range of lithologic facies (paleo-wetland and alluvial over-bank deposits of Pleistocene-Holocene age), with occasional distal clusters. In some cases, glasses trapped matted paleo-grasses below. Based on locations and depth below the glasses, however, most of these grasses had been diagenetically altered before being trapped in the glass. Individual glasses can exceed 30 cm across and 10 cm thick but are surrounded by numerous other fragments, occasionally oriented in a common direction. Many examples exhibit twisting, shearing, rolling, and folding (in some cases more than twice) before being fully quenched resulting in mixed components, including un-melted pockets or seams of clay. Several samples exhibit clusters of “fingers” indicative of injection at an angle into underlying wet sediments after partial quenching. Such morphologies indicate dynamic emplacement after initial melting.
Coupled with microanalysis (see Harris et al, this volume), we concur with the original interpretation that Pica glasses formed from several near-surface meteoric fireballs. They are unlike, however, previously reported Pliocene/Miocene glasses in Argentina that contain entrained compositions and/or clasts from depth (i.e., solid-body contact). Theoretical models (e.g., Boslough and Crawford, 2008) reveal that large fireballs in the lower atmosphere retain significant momentum, similar to the process proposed for radar “splotches” on Venus (Schultz, 1992). Radiative and convective heating (along with the partly vaporized projectile and plasma) preferentially fuses fine-grained materials followed by intense winds, thereby accounting for dynamic emplacement and limited ballistic transport.