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Two long-lived peaks in extraterrestrial 3He flux have been identified in the sedimentary record of the Cenozoic Era: at 8.2 Ma (late Miocene) and 35.8 Ma (late Eocene). These peaks document the occurrence of important events in the recent history of the solar system. The timing and temporal evolution of the dust event in the late Miocene as well as the absence of major terrestrial impact craters are consistent with an origin in the catastrophic collision that produced the Veritas asteroid family at this time. In contrast, there is no known asteroid collision corresponding to the late Eocene peak. Instead, the late Eocene event has elements consistent with a comet shower produced by a close stellar encounter. Both the rise time and the fall time of the enhanced dust flux and the occurrence of two major terrestrial impacts at the peak of the event are predicted by considerations of comet shower dynamics. However, debris from one of these impacts has a Cr isotope ratio that appears to exclude a carbonaceous chondrite impactor. If the presumption that comets have a carbonaceous chondrite–like composition is accurate, then an alternative mechanism for the late Eocene event may be required. The recent suggestion of an asteroid shower, where the 3He-bearing dust resulted from lunar impacts, is one such possibility, but it too fails to account fully for existing observations. The cause of the late Eocene event thus remains uncertain.

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