The non-impact origin of the Libyan
Desert Glass (LDG)
Norbert Brügge, Germany
LDG with Cristobalite
The strewn field of the Libyan Desert
Glass (LDG) is located in the Western Desert of Egypt nearby the Libyan
border (part of the Great Sand Sea). The area is occupies with high
parallel sand dunes, which extend from north to south direction more
as hundred kilometers in length. As centre is assumed an area, which
is expands about 20 km from W to E and about 50 km from N to S around
the position at 25° 25' N and 25° 30' E. The occurrence of silica-glass
was documented for the first time by Patrick A. Clayton in 1932.
It is supposed, that on a plain of about 6500 km2 a mass of ~1400 tons
of LDG is distributed. The most productive locations therefore are directly
in the north of Gilf Kebir plateau.
The Libyan Desert Glass (LDG) is in its
chemical and physical characteristics absolutely single and with no
other natural glass comparable (volcanic glass, Tektites and impact
glass). Nevertheless should be evidences for an impact origin the presence
of schlieren and partly digested mineral phases, and Lechatelierite
(a high-temperature mineral melts of Quartz, however at slight pressure),
and Baddeleyite, a high-temperature breakdown product of Zircon (STORZER
& KOEBERL,1991). But the so characteristic inclusions of small crystals
of Tridymite and Cristobalite are missing in impact glasses. Also typical
for tektite are spherical or drops - formed aerodynamic forms.
There are however also differences between the LDG and the "classical"
impact glasses, mainly by the chemistry (KOEBERL,1994). LDG is a very
silica-rich natural glass with about 95.5 - 99 wt.% SiO2, and shows
a limited variation in major and trace element abundances. To mention
are Al2O3, MgO, Na2O, K2O, CaO, FeO and TiO2. All other elements (e.g.
the group of the rare earth elements) occur only as trace. The degree
of hardness (MOHS) is 6, the specific weight is 2.2 g/cm3, the refractive
index is 1.46.
The viscosity is essentially greater than at tektites. The melting point
is with 1713° C more as 500° higher, than which other natural glasses.
The Desert Glass differs from the Tektites also by higher capacity of
water inclusions (0.050 - 0.200 wt.%). The colours of the LDG's varies
from light-yellow, honey-yellow, green-yellow, milky-white to black-grey.
At the surface
deposited fragments are polished often by the wind erosion, in sediment
sticking fragments have sharp corners, are not gleaming, and sand grains
are stuck. In macroscopic examination, the glass shows no impact tracks
(JUX,1983), in some fragments are however schlieren, which point to
internal movements in the material at high temperatures.Tiny, irregularly
formed bubbles, and light- and dark-brown bands can enforce the homogeneous
glassy mass. Is the concentration of bubbles high, the Desert Glass
appears milky - white and is opaque. Beside the bubbles different kinds
of further inclusions are to be recognized. To this (e.g.) belong smallest
crystal - grains of Quartz similar minerals Tridymite and
and Tridymite have high and low forms. Low Tridymite is orthorhombic
and pseudohexagonal, low Cristobalite is tetragonal and pseudo-cubic.
The equilibrium formation temperature of Cristobalite is 1470°C.
The equilibrium formation temperature of Tridymite is 870°C.
Cristobalite aggregats in
MURALI et al. 1997; ROCCHIA et
al. 1996; KOEBERL 1997 have found that the contents of siderophile elements,
such as Co, Ni and Ir, are significantly enriched in some rare, dark
bands that occur in some LDG samples. KOEBERL (1997) studied such dark
bands and found that the contents of Fe, Mg, and Ni are high in the
dark zones and low in the "normal" LDG. TEM investigation of the dark
streaks (PRATESI et al. 2002) also revealed the presence of small amorphous
Fe-rich silicate spherules, within the silica-glass matrix, resulting
from silicate-silicate liquid immiscibility.
Inclusions of organic substances have been found (JUX, 1983). Inclusions
of sedimentary fragments are not rare. That are clear proofs for it,
that the glass mass in unhardened condition had contact with the unaffected
sediment. That is no good proof for an impact event.
LDG with many unidentified
gas bubbles and a drop of dark glass.
The elongated shape of the inclusions indicates a flow
of the glass during the gel state. Source: Richard de Nul
LDG with many
Flowing dark stripes (Köberl,
Brownish streaks and unidentified
inclusions (Köberl, Univ. Wien)
Dark streaks and bands
of LDG. Source: Roman Gozdzikowski
LDG. Source: exotica.com
of the Libyan Desert Glass by BIGAZZIi & De MICHELE,
This dating with a weighted
mean of 28.5 +/- 0.8 Ma
confirm the age (25.9 +/-0.4 Ma), the size corrected age (28.5
+/- 2.3 Ma), and the plateau age (29.4 +/- 0.4 Ma)
quoted by STORZER & WAGNER, 1977 in their list
A plausible thesis for the origin
of Libyan Desert Glass
Hypothesis (in sense FELLER, 1996)
On base of the
not plausible sediment-hypothesis (in sense JUX, 1983), whereupon LDG
should have emerged in a sol-gel-process at low temperatures in a lake,
developed FELLER his hydrovolcanic-hypothesis. He agrees with
JUX therein, that LDG is a silica gel and not a melted glass (tektite,
volcanic glass), but the origin of LDG is to be explained with hydrovolcanic
FELLER supposes, that faults have emerged in the area, which were expanded
up to 4000 m under the earth's surface. On fissures sour magma penetrated
at the earth's surface. In the cooling- and hardening-phase the magma
were produced great quantities at water, in which the silica from the
magma were accumulated.
At high concentration of SiO2 a gel-mass could develop. At lower concentrations
of SiO2 resulted first a precipitation. It could ripen then the gel
by water-secretion and contraction to the LDG. This theory becomes confirms
by most different minerals in the LDG, similarly like them also in volcanic
An agreement exists in expert circles
to the age of the LDG. Measurements based on the fission-track
method determined an age of 29 - 28 Ma (Oligocene).
The hydrovolcanic hypothesis must be specified. The process can
be described as an orthomagmatic hydrotherme. There are
magmatic-fluide solutions which have separated themselves from
the magma body. They are concentrated on top of the pluton. The
solutions can contain magmatic water, solved volcanic gases and
minerals. Because of the pressure conditions is this water also
with temperatures far over 100°C still liquid. Supercritical water
exists at conditions above its critical temperature (374°C) and
pressure (22 GPa).
For example can be also higher quantities of SiO2 in solution
(first crystal growth of beta - Quartz at approx. 500°C). Other
modifications of Quartz (e.g. alpha - Quartz, Lechatelerite, Tridymite,
Cristobalite, which emerge in conditions of higher pressures and
temperatures of up to 1500°C) and further high - temperature minerals
(e.g. Baddeleyite) are entries from the plume.
It had their root in the basaltic magma concentration in about
400-700 km depth with temperatures of about 1800°C.
This Basalt source also contains molten material from the subduction
During an ascent and the slow cooling of the hydrovolcanic solution
it comes then normally to the remaining crystallization in veins,
fractures and cavities.
The further crystallization is prevented however during a rapid
cooling (for example during a quick ascent and outflow at the
Almost pure SiO2-rich hydrovolcanic solutions can harden consequently
under loss of water to an natural glass.
intermediate between purely hydrothermal and purely magmatic end
members and is best referred to as hydrovolcanic and/or subvolcanic
eruptions. Hydrovolcanic vent breccias are variably clast to matrix
supported, suggesting transport in a fluidized medium. Vent breccia
fragments are angular to subrounded, depending on distance and
velocity of transport and on the character of prior alteration
On the other hand, the term hydrothermal eruption refers to an
eruption, which appears to have been driven wholly by the energy
contained in the geothermal reservoir.
Hydrothermal eruption products show no evidence for a direct contribution
of magmatic energy.
remarks for new considerations and field researches
Marks this breccia with abundant
quartz the suspected main fault ?
The origin of the LDG is up to now unsolved
despite all efforts. The majority of workers favor an origin by impact.
There are however some differences to "classical" impact glasses. There
is also no credible references for an impact event in the region.
It is also not plausible, that a mass of ~1400 tons of clean glass is
produced by an impact event (or an air burst). It is not conceivable,
that for a so great quantity of LDG an ground-reservoir of pure silicium
- sand was available, which then was melted by an extraterrestrial event.
Besides the Sahara not exist in the Oligocene age (!).
The context between the localities of LDG, age of the Desert Glass and
the hydrovolcanic origin, proposed by FELLER, is it perhaps possible
to solve the mystery around the LDG:
There is definitive no significant
impact-structures in the region.
In contrary, in the Tertiary period
is a subvolcanic and/or orthomagmatic hydrovolcanic activity in the
region far spreading (Clayton
Craters, crater-field Gilf Kebir, Basalts on the Gilf-Kebir plateau,
crater and dykes in the Djebel Uweinat etc.).
The age of this volcanic activities
has been indicated to be 28.2 to 26.7 Ma. This age is conform to the
indicated age of the LDG.
The high plateau of the Gilf Kebir
probably is flanked by
A such fault is marked by Quartz clumps
of fissures (not documented unfortunately) and blocks by heat transformed
sandstones at the eastern borderline of the northern part of Gilf
Kebir as well as
at the eastern borderline of the southern part of Gilf Kebir (documented).
Probably the eastern main-fault is
extended to the Jabal Zalmah (Dalma) in Libya and have then a great
proximity to the "strewn field" of the LDG. Within the strewn field
of Silica is an distinctive area. Here many blocks of sandstones and
breccias are to be found, which were subjected a great heat . A prominent
locality also is the Qaret el-Hanash with finds of Jasper.
To clear up the things further, BARAKAT
as well KLEINMANN et al. found some shocked Quartz-bearing breccias
in the LDG strewn field. With it is postulates a connection to the
subvolcanic and orthomagmatic hydrovolcanic structures at the Gilf
Kebir and in the eastern direction of it.
Discoveries of micro-diamonds in rocks
nearby (BARAKAT) or rare elements such as Os, Ir, etc. in LDG (KOEBERL),
are no evidence for an extraterrestrial event. They can occur in the
earth crust or below of it.
Jasper from the Qaret-el -Hanash
Qaret-el-Hanash: Hill of fused
sandstone south of Silica
a subvolcanic gap with outflow of quartzitic solutions (Jasper)
Location: 25° 04' 30'' N / 25° 56' 12'' E
Hill with fused sandstones at
the presumed Aqaba fault line
Place with fused sandstones at
the presumed Aqaba fault line
Position: 23° 58' N / 25° 37' E
Hill detail 1
Hill detail 2
Hill detail 3
Hill detail 4
Baked and burnt sandstones in
the eastern direction of the Gilf Kebir (Crater field)
It is well possible, that an orthomagmatic-hydrovolcanic SiO2-rich
gel have climbed the earth's surface along an older main-fault in
the Tertiary period. This outflow was then hardened to Silica. These
SiO2-rich hydrovolcanic solutions were hardened consequently (under
loss of water) to an almost pure natural glass. Because of the fast
cooling was prevented further crystallization of Quartz.
Partly digested mineral phases in the glass, the presence of
high-temperature minerals of Quartz, as well as Baddeleyite, a high-temperature
breakdown product of Zircon and other minerals (e.g. hexagonal Diamond
with four phases of Graphite polymorphs)
are entries from a
It had their root in the basaltic magma concentration in about 400
- 700 km depth with temperatures of about 1800°C. This Basalt source
also contains molten material from the subduction zone.
The glass flow in unhardened condition had an unaffected contact
with the sediment. The glass contain organic and sedimentary remains.
That is no good proof for an impact origin of Silica. The significant
contents of Fe, Mg, Ni and Ir in some dark bands of Silica is no
proof for the presence of a meteoric component.
The trace element Iridium in the LDG is also no problem. In the
Paleocene (including the K/T boundary) now worldwide in sediments
prolonged Iiridium concentrations were detected with three peaks.
The origin by volcanism is very likely.
The origin of the
crater in the Yucatan is also misinterpreted. The proof
of an andesitic magma in the crater indicates a supervolcano event.
What is new
An other sample is the
Dakhla Glass. The
DG is a dark volcanic variant of the Libyan Desert Glass and rich
of CaO and Al2O3.
research results of LDG genesis
Lancaster, California, wrote me
about in this sense:
"I have master references of some volcanic
and "impact" glasses as well of the Libyan Desert Glass (LDG)
from the mid-infrared reflectance (Magna 560 spectrometer). The
result is that the LDG is not glass, not agate, opal, or jasper.
It does, however, very precisely match hyalite in infrared (right).
tektites - all
the glass and tektites match volcanic rocks.
For proper volcanic
identification, first we have to see a suite of additional 1200
cm region spectral bands not found in the literature due to the
limitations of using transmission infrared instead of reflectance
The LDG is a vapor-deposition of silica in volcanics. The comparison
hyalite specimen coming from the Czech Republic. The hyalite is
a glass-like opal, usually found associated with volcanic rocks,
has characteristics different from other types of opal."
A.G. Smallwood, P.S. Thomas and A.S. Ray, 2008
"Opaline silica that is deposited in crusts on volcanic rocks
by quenching from high temperature silica fluids. Opaline
silica, although a natural hydrous silica, has a much lower water
content and has properties that are much more silica glasses.
Examples of this type of silica are hyalite or the Libyan Desert
What is still relevant
Ulrich Jux (1983)
Zusammensetzung und Ursprung von Wüstengläsern
aus der Großen Sandsee Ägyptens.
Zeitschrift der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Geowissenschaften,
Band 134. p. 521-553, 4 fig. , 2 tab. , 4 pl.
"Brownish or dark LDSG includes both saturated
and unsaturated hydrocarbons which are marked by a noteworthy
share of isoprenoid compounds. .... microfossils, mainly plant
tissues and sporomorphs, could be identified from macerated
samples as well as in chips and thin sections. From this follows
a terrestrial origin of LDSG. This agrees well with other analytical
results, especially of the gas extracted from bubbles in milky
the findings of Prof. Dr. Jux were not accepted, and thus the
archived material was still no further testing has been undertaken.
Various further authors have claimed to find
organic inclusions within the LDG (e.g. Adolphe
et al. 1997)
microstructures in Libyan Desert Glass: Effect of microgravity environment
C. Patuelli, R. Serra, S. Coniglione, M. Chiarini
Microgravity and Space Station Utilization, vol. 3, no. 4, 2002
Samples of Libyan Desert Glass were analyzed
by X-ray micro-diffraction technique. It was identified fourteen nano-sized
crystalline LDG phases with different colours: Coesite, tridymite,
stishovite, baddeleyite, huttonite, yttrium, moissanite, platinium,
polymorphs of diamond and graphite.
The four praphite polymorh phases found in LDG samples can be explained
by taking into account that the graphite came from the earlier history
of the material. The element platinum is extremely scarce in most
crustal rocks. The origin of platinum is from ultra-mafic igneous
rocks. Its melting point is 1775 °C. The zircon oxide mineral Baddeleyite
is the product of the decomposition of zircon at 1775° - 1900°C. Moissanite
is a natural silicon carbide (SiC). Huttonite is a low-temperature
and low-pressure Thorite-polymorph (ThSiO2).
The identification of nine highbaric phases, the presence of hexagonal
diamond with four phases of graphite polymorphs, as well as huttonite
and baddeleyite, confirm that LDG formed by "shock metamorphism" at
very high pressure and temperature as a result of an "impact event".
The nano-sized crystalline phases revealed point out that LDG rapidly
Preliminary X-ray micro-diffractometry analyses were presented at
the “Silica 96” workshop (Patuelli, 1997). High pressure and high
temperature phases were identified: including samarium, germanium
12T, thorium beta (this beta phase occurs only at a temperature above
1350°C) and stishovite, which is a high temperature and pressure form
and gas content in dark schlieren of Libyan Desert Glass
M. C. Bölitz &
F. Langenhorst, Bayerisches Geoinstitut, Universität Bayreuth, Germany
In this study we have focused on the chemical
and textural characteristics of dark schlieren. Our investigation
aims at obtaining further information on the cooling history and precursor
material of LDG.
Backscattered electron (BSE) images were taken on the SEM and microprobe
in order to monitor chemical variations in LDG and to detect tiny
inclusions. Schlieren-free, bulk LDG samples show only slight variations
in chemistry, with two different grayscales in BSE images. Dark grey,
lens-like areas consist of almost pure SiO2 and thus represent lechatelierite,
the melt product of quartz. Bright grey areas have on average a SiO2
content of 98 – 99 wt.%; additional minor elements are Mg, Fe, Al,
Ca, K, and Na.
Compared to the bulk glass, the brownish-black schlieren in LDG are
distinctly enriched in Mg, Fe, and Al; the concentrations of measured
trace elements such as Ti, Ni, Cr, and La are equally enhanced. In
some parts of schlieren the SiO2 content decreases down to 86 wt %.
Within the dark schlieren we observe furthermore distinctly larger
chemical variations than in the bulk glass sample.
BSE images indicate that there are two types of dark schlieren. One type of
dark schlieren consists exclusively of tiny, mostly 100 nm in size,
glass spherules. This type of schlieren have been previously described
in a transmission electron microscopy study, as well. In comparison
to the glass matrix, the spherules are enriched in Al, Fe, Mg, and
Ni and depleted in Ca.
The other type of dark schlieren displays flow structures and large,
up to 25 μm diameter glass spherules. The overall texture of these
schlieren indicates an immiscibility of two silicate liquids. To detect
the miscibility gap, the chemical compositions of spherules and the
surrounding groundmass in dark schlieren have been measured with the
microprobe and are plotted in a ternary MgO-Al2O3-SiO2 diagram. The
analytical data define a trend that deviates from the known stable
miscibility gap along the MgO-SiO2 join. Instead, the data points
follow closely the Al2O3-SiO2 tie line, along which a metastabile
miscibility gap has been described.
Microprobe analyses of spherules and ground-mass in dark schlieren
of LDG. The ternary plot shows also the known stable miscibility gap
along the MgO-SiO2 join.
LDG samples with and without black schlieren were stepwisely heated
up to 1450°C. In both samples, bursting bubbles released mostly H2O
and CO2. The black schlieren contain however one order of magnitude
more H2O and CO2 than the bulk silica glass. Another difference between
black schlieren and bulk glass concerns the temperatures of gas release.
For example, CO2 is released from black schlieren in two temperature
intervals between 250° - 300°C and 450° - 550°C. In the bulk sample,
CO2 is however only liberated in the upper temperature interval between
420° - 650°C.
The data presented here provide hints to
the cooling history of LDG and the precursor material of dark schlieren.
Microprobe data of glass spherules and surrounding matrix in dark
schlieren indicate that the compositions of the two immiscible silicate
liquids are close to the Al2O3-SiO2 join. According to experimental
studies, this binary system displays only metastable immiscibility
for very rapid cooling of the melt, as it is expected for LDG.
DEGAS analyses reveal that dark schlieren are
distinctly richer in volatiles, particularly in H2O, than bulk LDG.
It is thus likely that the precursor material might have contained