A fireball meteor was seen spreading across the skies over the Midwest of the United States and Ontario in the evening of January 16, 2018. Weather data helped scientists quickly track where the meteor’s pieces fell to Earth so they could collect them before the space samples are. too much contaminated by the Earth.
“These pieces of meteorite fell within that size range, so weather radar helped to identify the position and speed of the meteorite. This meant we could find it very quickly . “
But the Hamburg meteorite – collected less than two days after it fell to Earth – is a great example of a largely unchanged meteorite.
Sprint hunter Robert Ward found the first piece of the meteorite sitting on the frozen surface of Strawberry Lake, which is near Hamburg, Michigan. Ward and private collector Terry Boudreaux donated the meteorite to the Field Museum for study.
“This meteorite is special because it fell into a frozen lake and recovered quickly. It was really good. We could see that the minerals were little changed and later found out it was include a rich list of extraterrestrial organic compounds, “says Heck. “These types of organic compounds were likely delivered to Earth early by meteorites and may have contributed to life’s ingredients.”
He published the study in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science on Tuesday.
“When the meteorite arrived on the Maes, I spent the whole weekend analyzing it, because I was so excited to find out what kind of meteorite it was and what it contained,” said Jennika Greer, a co-author of the study and a doctoral student. at the Field and the University of Chicago, in a statement.
“With every falling meteorite, there is a chance that there is something completely new and completely unexpected.”
Here’s what they learned.
The Hamburg meteorite is largely rare because it was collected so quickly after falling to Earth. This means that the meteorite did not sit long enough for weathering, for its metals to start to rust, for water to seep through cracks and contaminate them or their minerals (such as olivine) to be changed.
This rapid recovery of the meteorite makes it “remarkable,” Heck told CNN in an email. And the buzz around the meteorite led to it being well studied and analyzed by researchers at 24 different organizations.
Scientists believe the Hamburg meteorite was ejected from its parent asteroid about 12 million years ago, traveling through space until it landed on Earth. Analysis of the meteorite revealed that the rock had been exposed to cosmic rays while zipping through space for 12 million years.
The meteorite came from an asteroid that formed 4.5 billion years ago, just about 20 million years after the formation of our solar system, Heck said.
The 2600 different organic compounds covering the Hamburg meteorite were formed in its parent asteroid.
This is what is known as chondrite H4, a type of meteorite that is not known to be rich in organic.
“This meteorite shows a high variety of organics, because if someone were interested in studying organic, this is not the kind of meteorite they would ask to look at,” Greer said. “But because there was so much buzz around it, everyone wanted to apply their own technique to it, so we have an unusually comprehensive set of data for a single meteorite.”
Typically, carbonaceous chondrites are a thousand times richer in organics than H4 chondrites, Heck said. Specifying a near-Earth asteroid, recently sampled by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, is carbon-rich.
“The fact that this common chondrite meteorite is rich in organic provides support for the hypothesis that meteorites play an important role in supplying organic compounds to early Earth,” Heck said. “Throughout the history of Earth, meteorites fell to our planet too before life formed and possibly supplied some of the building blocks for life on Earth.”
Originally, the organic material in the meteorite was heated to up to 650 degrees while it was still part of its parent asteroid. In fact, this reduced the variety of organic compounds in the meteorite from millions to two thousand. But Heck was still amazed by how many organic compounds were still in the meteorite despite the heat-induced changes.
The researchers found hydrocarbons, as well as compounds containing sulfur and nitrogen.
“Much more work needs to be done to better understand the individual chemical pathways of the different compounds and the different processes that the organic matter went through,” Heck said.
The Hamburg meteorite can be compared to other samples collected in the future – including the pristine samples returned from asteroids by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 mission and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission. The first sample of the Ryugu asteroid will be delivered to Earth by Hayabusa2 in December, while the sample from Penning will return in 2023.
“But we’re also keeping an eye out for new meteorite falls,” said Heck. “Every meteorite that falls to Earth is worth studying, because it could provide a unique perspective on the solar system and could shed new light on its history and origins.”