Earth, Moon, and Planets

, Volume 107, Issue 2–4, pp 169–196 | Cite as

The Shapes of Splash-Form Tektites: Their Geometrical Analysis, Classification and Mechanics of Formation



Splash-form tektites are found with a wide range of sizes and in an intriguing array of shapes ranging from spheres to flat discs to dumbbells. Despite the considerable interest that exists in tektites, there has been relatively little effort to develop rational shape descriptors and to understand the origin of their shapes based on basic physics. Tektites represent a natural laboratory experiment that can be analyzed to better understand the physics of rotating fluid drops. In this paper, we propose a classification scheme based on the axial ratios of ellipsoids, and we analyze the frequency of tektite shapes using a database of over 1,000 measured tektites. We show that the shape distribution for tektites from Thailand and Vietnam are very similar and that the most common tektites are moderately deformed discs but there exist also a significant number of moderately deformed dumbbells, and we argue that this distribution comes about because fluid drops first deform as oblate forms and then undergo a non-axisymmetric instability to become prolate. We also find that the largest tektites are most likely to be weakly deformed oblate objects while the most strongly deformed and most highly prolate forms are considerably smaller. A numerical model for the evolution of an axisymmetric fluid drop, such as a tektite in its molten early stage, is presented which demonstrates that drops that deform relatively slowly over a longer period of time are likely to develop central thinning while those that deform more rapidly are more likely to retain the shape of an ellipsoid. For the numerical parameters used the characteristic time scale for deformation was less than 1 s.


Tektites Splash-form Shape analysis Physics of formation 



We would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for their thoughtful comments in reviewing this manuscript. MRS would like to thank Paul Liu for sparking his initial interest in tektite shapes.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geological SciencesUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada

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