It made news around the world: On Sept. 15, 2007, an object hurtled through the sky and crashed into the Peruvian countryside. Scientists dispatched to the site near the village of Carancas found a gaping hole in the ground.
Peter Schultz, professor of geological sciences at Brown University and an expert in extraterrestrial impacts, went to Peru to learn more. For the first time, he will present findings from his travels at the 39th annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in League City, Texas, in a talk scheduled for 2 p.m. on March 11, 2008. Brown graduate student Robert “Scott” Harris collaborated on the research, joined by Jose Ishitsuka, a Peruvian astrophysicist, and Gonzalo Tancredi, an astronomer from Uruguay.
What Schultz and his team found is surprising. The object that slammed into a dry riverbed in Peru was a meteorite, and it left a 49-foot-wide crater. Soil ejected from the point of impact was found nearly four football fields away. When Schultz’s team analyzed the soil where the fireball hit, he found “planar deformation features,” or fractured lines in sand grains found in the ground. Along with evidence of debris strewn over a wide area, the shattered sand grains told Schultz that the meteorite had maintained a high rate of speed as it shot through the atmosphere. Scientists think it was traveling at roughly 15,000 miles per hour at the moment of impact.
“Normally with a small object like this, the atmosphere slows it down, and it becomes the equivalent of a bowling ball dropping into the ground,” Schultz said. “It would make a hole in the ground, like a pit, but not a crater. But this meteorite kept on going at a speed about 40 to 50 times faster than it should have been going.”
Scientists have determined the Carancas fireball was a stony meteorite – a fragile type long thought to be ripped into pieces as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere and then leaves little more than a whisper of its journey.
Yet the stony meteorite that struck Peru survived its passage mostly intact before impact.
“This just isn’t what we expected,” Schultz said. “It was to the point that many thought this was fake. It was completely inconsistent with our understanding how stony meteorites act.”
Schultz said that typically fragments from meteorites shoot off in all directions as the object speeds to Earth. But he believes that fragments from the Carancas meteorite may have stayed within the fast-moving fireball until impact. How that happened, Schultz thinks, is due to the meteorite’s high speed. At that velocity, the fragments could not escape past the “shock-wave” barrier accompanying the meteorite and instead “reconstituted themselves into another shape,” he said.
That new shape may have made the meteorite more aerodynamic – imagine a football passing through air versus a cinderblock – meaning it encountered less friction as it sped toward Earth, hitting the surface as one large chunk.
“It became very streamlined and so it penetrated the Earth’s atmosphere more efficiently,” Schultz said.
Schultz’s theory could upend the conventional wisdom that all small, stony meteorites disintegrate before striking Earth. If correct, it could change the thinking about the size and type of extraterrestrial objects that have bombarded the Earth for eons and could strike our planet next.
“You just wonder how many other lakes and ponds were created by a stony meteorite, but we just don’t know about them because when these things hit the surface they just completely pulverize and then they weather,” said Schultz, director of the Northeast Planetary Data Center and the NASA/Rhode Island University Space Grant Consortium.
Schultz’s research could have implications for Mars, where craters have been discovered in recent missions. “They could have come from anything,” he said. “It would be interesting to study these small craters and see what produced them. Perhaps they also will defy our understanding.”
Richard Lewis | EurekAlert!
Strength of tectonic plates may explain shape of the Tibetan Plateau, study finds
25.07.2017 | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
NASA flights gauge summer sea ice melt in the Arctic
25.07.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers
Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...
Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.
At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...
3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects
A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...
Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.
For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...
What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.
To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...
21.07.2017 | Event News
19.07.2017 | Event News
12.07.2017 | Event News
25.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
25.07.2017 | Earth Sciences
25.07.2017 | Life Sciences