Tutankhamun's Fireball

The ancient Egyptians knew of this extraordinary place in Sahara desert, but for thousands of years it remained unexplained. Now a group of scientists plan to finally solve this mystery. It will take them on a journey from the depths of the desert to the Cairo Museum and the test site of the world's first atomic bomb. And what they reveal may pose an unsuspected threat to us all.

Heading for the great sand-sea of the Egyptian Sahara Desert a team of scientists is on a mission. Their aim is to discover why tons of most unusual glass is lying in the middle of the desert. It's a scientific mystery because it's unique, we don't know exactly the process that caused the creation of the glass, but we know it's a natural phenomenon, and therefore requires a natural explanation. May be a very unusual event but it's certainly not a mystery that can't be solved. Scientists have been interested in this desert glass for a very long time because it is very different from any other natural glass that we know. It's just such a mysterious glass.

Aly Barakat is Egypt's desert glass expert and has travelled to the area several times. Barakat's interest dates back to 1998 and a remarkable discovery he was involved in. It took place in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Hidden away in a dark corner of the Tutankhamun exhibition was a necklace made of different color gems. At its center was an intriguing yellow-green carved scarab. It was said to be chalcedony - a semi-precious stone. But mineralogists were not so sure. Surrounded by armed guards and officials, Barakat and his colleague Vincenzo de Michele were allowed to examine and test the jewel. And the tests revealed that the scarab was not a semi-precious stone. In fact it was made of glass. But it was not a glass like any other produced by the ancient Egyptians.

Barakat had an idea where the glass came from. He knew of a 10th century Arabic book with a map inside which showed the location of a large mineral deposit in the Egyptian Sahara desert. The book describes a mineral called peridot. Peridot is a greenish-yellow gem, but Barakat had never heard of peridot being found in this part in the desert.

Barakat guessed that the Arabs had discovered the source of the glass in Tutankhamun's necklace. What's more he thought he had seen some pieces of the same glass. In the geology museum where he worked there were samples of glass brought back from this part of Sahara by an English explorer. In 1932, Patrick Clayton reported that far-out in the desert he had discovered chunks of glass scattered over thousands of square kilometres of desert. He had no idea how it had got there but he brought back some samples. Since the discovery of the Tutankhamun's jewel several scientific teams have traveled into the Sahara to try to find answers to explain the origin of this unusual glass. Barakat and his team are the latest to make the journey out to the glass area.

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