A mini van-sized meteorite, one of the fastest and rarest to have hit the earth, detonated this April over California's Sierra foothills, yielding a goldmine of scientific data.
The 70-member scientific team, including nine researchers from University of California-Davis, and scientists from the SETI Institute, NASA, also reported that the object took a highly eccentric orbital route to get here. The team found that the meteorite was of the rarest type, a carbonaceous chondrite, composed of cosmic dust and presolar materials that helped form the planets of the solar system, the journal Science reports.
The tiny meteorite entered the atmosphere at about 64,000 miles per hour.
"If this were a much bigger object, it could have been a disaster," said study co-author Qing-zhu Yin, California geology professor. "This is a happy story in this case." "For me, the fun of this scientific gold rush is really just beginning," said Yin. "This first report based on the initial findings provides a platform to propel us into more detailed research... We will learn a lot more with Sutter's Mill (the site where it fell)."
The scientists learned that the meteorite formed about 4.5 billion years ago. It was knocked off its parent body, which may have been an asteroid or a Jupiter-family comet, roughly 50,000 years ago. That began its journey to Sutter's Mill, the gold data discovery site that sparked the California Gold Rush. according to a California statement.
Meteorites like Sutter's Mill are thought to have delivered oceans of water to the earth early in its history. Using neutron-computed tomography, researchers helped identify where hydrogen, and therefore water-rich fragments, resides in the meteorite without breaking it open.