The intense energy of an asteroid impact causes melting and vaporization of upper layers of Earth’s crust. Some of this material is ejected away from the site of impact in a hot plume of expanding rock vapor and melt.
The melt will later cool and fall back to the surface. Tektites are cooled impact melt glasses, usually having aerodynamic shapes, that traveled relatively far from the impact site.
By studying the chemical and isotopic compositions of tektites, and reproducing them in the lab in aerodynamic levitation laser heating experiments, we can learn about the conditions of their formation and gain insight in to the violent and ephemeral impact plume.
Our recent paper, Seconds after impact: Insights into the thermal history of impact ejecta from diffusion between lechatelierite and host glass in tektites and experiments presents a new approach to studying tektite formation and evolution. We used levitation heating experiments to reproduce the textures and diffusion profiles seen in natural tektites. The experiments allow for estimates of the temperature-time histories of tektites containing lechatelierite.