To the untrained eye, the black, smooth-edged lump that is sitting under a glass cover looks similar to a piece of charcoal. But to scientists Dante Lauretta and Ed Beshore from the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, it is one of the most intriguing stones they have ever seen.
“This meteorite is the oldest rock you'll ever find on Earth. In fact, it formed 50 to 60 million years before the Earth even existed,” said Lauretta, who is a professor of planetary science and principal investigator of NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission, which will send a spacecraft to return a sample from an asteroid in 2023.
On the morning of April 22, around 8 a.m., residents of Nevada and California looked up when a bright fireball streaked across the sky, followed by a boom that rattled windows all across the Sierra Nevada. Some later said the flash of light was so blinding it made them think of a nuclear explosion.
It turns out they weren’t too far off: NASA later stated a meteorite that plunged deep into the Earth’s atmosphere, scattering shrapnel across a remote, mountainous area near Sutter’s Mill in California, blew up with about one-third of the energy of the Hiroshima bomb.
Professional meteorite hunters Michael Farmer, Greg Hupe and Robert Ward, who recovered several chunks of the meteorite, have donated samples to the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory for scientific study. They estimated the parent asteroid to be roughly van-sized and weighing as much as 10 (empty) semi-trucks, before it hit the atmosphere over Nevada and California.
“The Lunar and Planetary Laboratory has a long tradition of working with the commercial meteorite community for the benefit of planetary science,” Lauretta said. “We are especially grateful to Michael, Greg and Robert for this contribution along with the many other valuable specimens they have donated to LPL over the years.”