Meteorites that had fallen from an asteroid impact that lit up the skies over California and Nevada in April are showing scientists just how complex an asteroid surface can be.
These are some of the 77 fragments of the Sutter’s Mill meteorite fall that were collected in April 2012.
Credit: NASA/E. James
A new study published in Science this week by an international team of researchers describes the speedy recovery of the meteorites and reports that this space rock is an unusual example from a rare group known as carbonaceous chondrites, which contain some of the oldest material in the solar system.
The study of these meteorites and others like them could hold answers to unsolved mysteries about the origin of life on Earth as they contain molecules such as water and amino acids.
"We found that this meteorite is a 'breccia,' a mixture of different rocks that accumulated at the surface of a larger asteroid, and those surfaces can be more diverse than we thought before," said co-author Denton Ebel, chair of the Division of Physical Sciences at the American Museum of Natural History.
About eight months ago, several Doppler weather radars detected a hail of rocks following a fireball traveling at a record-breaking 28.6 kilometers per second (about 64,000 miles per hour) over the Sierra Nevada in northern California. An immediate search-and-recover mission, led by NASA Ames Research Center, the SETI Institute, and the University of California, Davis, resulted in the retrieval of 77 meteorites. The fragments, which were in pristine shape despite entering the atmosphere at a speed twice as fast as a typical meteorite fall, were collectively called the Sutter's Mill meteorite after the nearby historical site that started the California Gold Rush.
"From the loud sonic boom, we quickly realized that this was an asteroid several meters in size, the biggest object to hit over land since the impact of asteroid 2008 TC3 in the north of Sudan in 2008," said lead author and meteor astronomer Peter Jenniskens of NASA Ames and SETI. "That asteroid proved to be a mixed bag of different types of meteorites, and we realized it would be very interesting to find out how diverse the Sutter's Mill meteorites were."
Several fragments were sent to laboratories around the world for simultaneous analysis of the meteorite's mineralogy and structure. The Sutter's Mill meteorite was classified as a CM chondrite, C standing for carbonaceous—high in carbon content—and M standing for the group's type specimen, the Mighei meteorite that fell in Ukraine in the late 1800s.
Ebel received five Sutter's Mill meteorites to study using x-ray computed tomography (CT), an imaging technique that takes pictures of the inside of a specimen without destroying it. The Museum's scanner takes more than 1,000 x-ray images of the object as it rotates inside of the machine. The data collected from these x-rays are then converted by computers to form a 3-D image of the specimen's interior, one slice at a time, to understand the components of the meteorite.
"In the same way that medical tomography, called CAT scanning, is used to image the interior of the human body, CT scanning in a research laboratory allows us to obtain images of the interiors of solid objects, but with a much higher resolution," Ebel said. "This is a fundamentally important tool not just for looking at rocks but for curating them and figuring out whether anything interesting is inside."
CT scans at the Museum, and at the University of California, Davis in an effort led by cosmochemist Qing-Zhu Yin, revealed that no two Sutter's Mill meteorites are the same. The meteorites contained angular pieces of different composition and density. They showed diversity on millimeter scale.
"This was the first time that a CM chondrite was found to be clearly a breccia," Yin said. "The rocky fragments came together following impacts on the parent asteroid, which implies that this meteorite originated from near its surface."
Analyses performed using different techniques at other institutions were in agreement: the mineralogy and other geochemical features of these fragments are unexpectedly diverse and complex. This suggests that the surface of the asteroid that spawned the CM chondrites, their "parent body," is more complex than previously thought.
"This meteorite is special because it records many collisional processes and mixing that we, oddly, don't see very often," Ebel said. "Maybe the real question is 'why don't we see more of this?' It could be that most of the samples we've worked with in the past didn't hold up very well as they entered the atmosphere. Or that we're just seeing a small segment of what's really out there because we don't have meteorite records of what fell to the Earth thousands or millions of years ago. We still have a lot of work to do to figure out what's really going on in the asteroid belt."
Kendra Snyder | EurekAlert!
In times of climate change: What a lake’s colour can tell about its condition
21.09.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
Did marine sponges trigger the ‘Cambrian explosion’ through ‘ecosystem engineering’?
21.09.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam - Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum GFZ
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Life Sciences
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy