Contact: Melanie O’Brien or Ellen Sterner 214-768-7650

Jan. 14, 2004


DALLAS (SMU) — Researchers from Southern Methodist University have published their paper in the December issue of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, suggesting that on Nov. 24, 1993, a piece of bizarre matter raced harmlessly through the Earth and left nothing behind. The discovery, first reported last year, could be the first-ever detection of a “strange quark nugget.”

This form of matter, known as “strange quark matter,” is so dense that a ton-sized nugget would be about the size of a red blood cell. Physicists have suspected since 1984 that this very heavy form of matter might exist as the most stable form of matter in the universe, but no one has yet found evidence of it. If strange quark matter does exist, it would be relatively rare in the universe, passing through the Earth once every four years, according to the researchers.

After searching through over one million records collected from the U.S. Geological Survey, taken by seismographs worldwide between 1990 and 1993, the SMU team discovered one event that couldn’t be explained by an ordinary earthquake, but whose characteristics fit what might happen if a chunk of strange quark matter flew through the planet.

The nugget would have entered the South Pacific and left 16 seconds later near the South Pole. Despite the force of the strange quark matter, the impact of the nuggets on an inhabited area would probably be less violent than that of a meteor.

SMU Geology Professor Eugene Herrin says, “It’s very hard to determine what the effect would be. There would probably be a tiny crater, but it would be virtually impossible to find anything.”

Herrin and SMU Physics Professor Vigdot Teplitz led the research team, which included SMU computer specialist David Anderson and former graduate student Ileana Tibuleac.