4.5 billion-year-old meteorite from beyond Mars makes its way to Australia
A meteorite from a galaxy far, far away touched down in Australia just in time for the New Year. Well, it’s likely to have come from the meteor belt between Mars and Jupiter, but that’s still a pretty healthy distance.
Phil Bland, a planetary geologist at Western Australia’s Curtin University, found the ancient meteorite on New Year’s Eve.
The 1.7 kilogram (3.7 pound) meteorite was retrieved thanks to a system of 32 remote cameras that are part of the Desert Fireball Network and stationed in the outback, Bland told Mashable Australia. “We’ve got all these cameras, automated observatories out in the bush,” he said. “They are built to see any fireballs coming through the atmosphere and then notify us.”
On Nov. 27, 2015, a number of the cameras saw something big and bright light up the night sky. Bland’s team was then able to work out the object’s trajectory. “We could see it was big enough to survive coming through the atmosphere, and about where we could find it,” he explained.
At that point, it was a race against time to track down the space object before heavy rains buried it beyond reach.
Using drones and an aerial spotter, the searchers were able to find a possible impact site in Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, South Australia. Two local Arabana men from a group indigenous to the area, Dean Stuart and Dave Strangways, led them to the spot, and Bland dug the meteorite out of the mud by hand.
“We couldn’t see it, and I was starting to think it had been washed away by previous rains,” he said. “We found it really three hours before the rain came in.”
The meteorite is likely to be a chondrite or stony meteorite, Bland explained, which means it’s not a super-rare specimen. Nevertheless, it should provide scientists with a significant set of data.
Because the team’s cameras tracked its movements, scientists will be able to gather detailed information about its orbit and origins, which is likely to be the asteroid belt between the planets Mars and Jupiter.
“We have so few data points about meteorites,” Bland said. “Every time, it teaches us something new. There are 50,000 meteorites in collections around the world, but we’ve only got orbits for 20.”
The meteorite is probably around 4.5 billion years old, which means it’s older than the Earth. However, as Bland pointed out, “most meteorites are older than the earth,” and this one will be able to tell us about the early formation of our solar system.
Next up, the scientists will scan the meteorite to record its shape, and then cut a thin slice of it to work out its composition and determine exactly how long it had been been floating in space. They’ll also develop an analysis of its orbit. “Put all that together, and we’ll get the complete story,” Bland said.
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