Tektites: Do Small Worlds Collide?

In my October 2002 Meteorite Times Tektite article we talked about the famous Nininger-Huss Indochinite specimens which exhibit plastic breaks while cooling.

A new question we can ask is whether the above breaks were caused during their impact with the ground, or if the plastic breaks were due to a collision with another tektite while in flight or due to the forces on the tektite during spinning.  Only 2 of  the some 50,000 tektite  specimens that Nininger and Huss examined showed signs of plastic breaks.  It would seem logical that if these specimen’s breaks were caused during their impact with the ground that we would see many more examples of this type along with many others with bent and squished areas.  But we don’t see this which leads me to suspect that the impacts which caused these breaks occurred during their flight while still plastic and that the tektite glass cools before impacting with the ground.

Do impacts between tektites occur during flight while still plastic?  If yes then we should find evidence of this.


The above fractured Indochinite specimen was part of a large hollow form. I have not seen a large hollow form that has not been fragmented.  Viewing the above image we see what appears to be a smaller oval tektite that has become welded into the larger hollow form.  We can only imagine the larger hollow bubble form in flight with it’s surface still plastic but starting to cool.  Suddenly it collides with a smaller cooler blob of tektite glass.  The dynamics were such that the smaller tektite did not puncture the shell but instead became incorporated into it.

Below is a natural break that occurred creating a rough cross section allowing us to almost trace the contour of the smaller specimen welded to the larger shell.  I can almost see a weld line (or is it my wishful imagination).  This will require further testing which always has the possibility of destroying the specimen due to the internal stresses in the glass.

Now imagine the same scenario but with the larger specimen being a solid form instead of being a hollow form.  What changes would occur to a still plastic elliptical disk tektite specimen collided with a smaller already cool tektite specimen?  Below are images of just such a scenario.

In the above side view image we can see how the disk shape altered as the two tektites collided. The top and bottom area on the impact side shows an increased thickness.  It is also interesting to note that the surface texturing around the impact area has been greatly affected.

In both of these examples the plastic specimen was the larger of the two specimens and the more solid tektite form was the smaller.  I would expect small specimens to cool faster than larger specimens.

I invite you to please share your views and images of specimens that you have either supporting or opposing so that we can all better understand these amazing objects.

About the Author

Paul Harris
Paul is the webmaster for all of The Meteorite Exchange's websites including Meteorite Times Magazine. His fascination with all things space related began as a young boy during the Space Race. His free time is divided between meteorites, astrophotography, webmaster, and the daily operations of the eCommerce website www.meteorites-for-sale.com.