What causes the magnetic anomaly in New Mexico? Scientists have found an explanation

Meteoroids enter the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of up to 72 kilometers per second, and only with its density does it begin to slow down. The meteoroid collides at high speed and rubs with air molecules, evaporating more and more of its layers. This phenomenon is called ablation, and it is thanks to it that we see the body shining brightly as it passes through the atmosphere in the sky.

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The dense atmosphere tends to destroy the space object already in the air, so that no solid parts of it reach the earth’s surface. However, if it is large enough for at least part of it to fall, then a trace usually remains at the point of impact: an impact crater, crushed conical rock formations, or other signs that the meteorite has hit the ground here and not elsewhere.

It is an intensive geological process, accompanied by high temperatures, pressures and particle velocities that interact with each other. And one of its manifestations is also the formation of plasma, a type of gas in which atoms decompose into electrons and ions.

Plasma is key

“The impact takes place at tremendous speed. When a body comes into contact with the earth at this speed, its kinetic energy changes into heat, steam and plasma,” he says. Science Alert geolog Gunther Kletetschka z University of Alaska Fairbanks.

His team found that this plasma did something special with the normal magnetism of the rocks – in the area of ​​impact of the body, the magnetism was about ten times smaller than what the magnetization values ​​would be measured normally.

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Natural magnetism, usually in very small amounts, can be observed in most rocks and other sediments. It is given by small grains of magnetic metals, which during the gradual settling of the earth’s sediment leveled according to the lines of the planet’s magnetic field. After the rock solidifies, these grains remain permanently in the created orientation.

If a shock wave occurs, as in the case of a meteorite impact, then these magnetic grains will receive a good dose of energy, as a result of which they will lose their magnetism.

“The shock wave provides energy in excess of the amount of energy (one gigapascal for magnetite and 50 gigapascal for hematite) needed to block residual magnetism in individual magnetic grains,” the researchers wrote in a new study published in the professional title Scientific Reports.

Discovery by Santa Fe

The authors of this study found in a 1.2 billion-year-old impact unit near Santa Fe, New Mexico, that the rock’s magnetism never returned to its original state after a meteorite impact.

As a possible explanation, they suggest the hypothesis that the plasma created a “magnetic shield” that kept the grains in their disrupted state, in which they shuffled randomly, not by the planetary magnetic field. As a result, the magnetic intensity dropped to 0.1 percent of the rock saturation level, or about one-tenth of the natural level.


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According to scientists, the appearance of the shock wave can create a magnetic shield, allowing the magnetic grains to be kept in a so-called superparamagnetic state, in which they remain in a random orientation, which significantly reduces the overall magnetic intensity.

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“Our data not only shed light on how the impact process can reduce magnetic paleointensity, but also inspire another direction in which reduced magnetic paleointensity can be used to identify impact sites,” the researchers said.

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