“Climate radar is for detecting hail and rain,” said Philip Heck, a leading study author and curator at the Field Museum in Chicago and an associate professor at the University of Chicago. “These meteorites fell within that size range, so weather radar helped show the meteorite’s position and speed. That means we could detect it very quickly.”
Earth’s elements, including liquid water, can be changed before a meteorite’s chemicals accumulate.
But the Hamburg meteorite – collected within two days of landing – is a prime example of a large unchanged meteorite.
Robert Ward, a meteorite hunter, discovered the first part of a meteorite sitting on the frozen surface of Strawberry Lake near Hamburg, Michigan. Ward and private collector Terry Bowd was able to study this as Ulkaat contributed to the Droxfield Museum.
“This meteorite is special because it fell into the frozen lake and recovered quickly. It is very old. The minerals have not undergone much change and it was later found to contain extraterrestrial biological compounds,” Heck said. “These organic compounds may have been brought to Earth early by meteorites, which may have caused life.”
The study was published in the journal Meteorology & Planetary Science on Tuesday.
“When I got to the meteorite field, 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 Jennica Greer, a study cohort and doctoral student. Field and the University of Chicago in a statement.
“With every meteorite that falls, there is a possibility of something completely new and completely unexpected.”
Here is what they learned.
Souvenir from space
The Hamburg meteorite is largely ancient because it was collected very quickly after it hit the earth. This meant that meteorites did not have much time to settle in the atmosphere, letting its metals begin to corrode, allowing water to flow through cracks and contaminate or replace minerals (such as olivine).
Heck told CNN in an email that this quick recovery of the meteorite “makes it noticeable”. Researchers from 24 different institutions have been studying and analyzing this well, which has caused a buzz around the meteorite.
Scientists believe that the Hamburg meteorite was ejected from its parent asteroid 12 million years ago. Analysis of the meteorite showed that the rock had been exposed to cosmic rays as it orbited in space for 12 million years.
Heck said the meteorite formed from an asteroid that formed 4.5 billion years ago, about 20 million years after our solar system formed.
It formed 2,600 different organic compounds, including the Hamburg meteorite Parent asteroid.
This is known as H4chondrite, a type of meteorite that is not known to be organically rich.
“This meteorite shows high biodiversity, and if anyone wants to study organic in it, this is not the meteorite they usually want to see,” Green said. “But there was so much excitement around it that everyone wanted to apply their technology to it, so we have an unusually comprehensive data for a single meteorite.”
In general, carbonaceous chondrites are a thousand times richer than H4 chondrites, Heck said. NASA’s Osiris-Rex mission recently contained carbon on the recently sampled asteroid Bennu.
“The fact that this typical concrete meteorite contained organic matter supports the assumption that meteorites played an important role in bringing organic compounds to early Earth,” Heck said. “Before the formation of life, meteorites will fall on our planet throughout the history of the earth and bring some building blocks to sustain life.”
The biomaterial in the meteorite was once heated to 1,200 degrees, which was part of its parent asteroid. This reduced the diversity of biological compounds in the meteorite from a million to a thousand. Heck was amazed at how many organic compounds were present in the meteorite despite the changes caused by the heat.
The researchers also found compounds containing hydrocarbons, sulfur and nitrogen.
“More work needs to be done to better understand the individual chemicals of different compounds and the different processes that biomass goes through,” Heck said.
The Hamburg meteorite can be compared to other samples collected in the future, including samples returned from the asteroids by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa 2 mission and NASA’s Osiris-Rex mission. The first sample from the asteroid Ryugu will land on Hayabusa 2 in December, and the sample from Bennu will return in 2023.
“But we are waiting for new meteorites,” Heck said. “Every meteorite that lands on Earth needs to be studied because it can give a unique perspective on the Solar System and shed new light on its history and our origin.”
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