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!
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