Unusual meteorite found by time-lapse camera observatory

Nov 05, 2009
Time-lapse image taken over one night of a fireball travelling across the sky. It was taken from a fireball camera network or observatory in Western Australia. © Phil Bland, Imperial College

(PhysOrg.com) -- An unusual meteorite with an interesting orbit has been tracked to the ground using a photographic observatory that records time-lapse images of fireballs traveling across the sky.

The network of cameras is in the Nullabor Desert in Western Australia. It allows scientists to track a fireball path, formed by a meteorite as it travels through Earth's atmosphere, and then work out where the meteorite comes to rest.

The fireball camera network project was set up by Dr Phil Bland from Imperial College London and scientific associate of the Natural History Museum, along with colleagues from Ondrejov Observatory in the Czech Republic, and the Western Australia Museum, in 2006. This is the first meteorite recovered using the network.

The cameras recorded the fireball that ultimately produced the meteorite in 2007, and the fragments that fell to Earth were named Bunburra Rockhole after a local landscape feature near to where they landed.

The meteorite was found within 100m of the predicted fall line. It was collected and samples were given to the Natural History Museum where mineral experts Dr Gretchen Benedix and Dr Kieren Howard helped examine and classify it. They produced data about the meteorite’s composition and the types of minerals within it.

Most meteorites found on Earth are believed to be fragments of asteroids - ancient rocks that formed during the creation of the about 4.56 billion years ago.

Using complex calculations, the team were able to work out the meteorite's path to Earth and its orbit, and from that, where in the solar system the meteorite most likely came from.

Unusual meteorite found by time-lapse camera observatory
The Bunburra Rockhole meteorite is made from an usual type of basaltic igneous rock © Phil Bland, Imperial College

The Bunburra meteorite is about the size of a cricket ball and is an unusual type of basaltic igneous rock. Most basaltic meteorites are thought to come from one asteroid. However, the composition of Bunburra Rockhole means that it comes from a different asteroid.

This means that the process required to form this type of rock was happening in more than one place in the early solar system.

‘It's vital to have a meteorite with information about where it comes from in the solar system,’ says Dr Benedix.

‘We've known for a long time that most meteorites are from the asteroid belt, but we don't know exactly where. This kind of information helps us fit one more piece in the puzzle of how the solar system formed and evolved.

‘The fact that this meteorite is compositionally unusual increases it's value even more. It helps us to uncover more information about the conditions of the early solar system.’

The team says that the meteorite had an unusual orbit. Using modeling techniques, it was determined that Bunburra Rockhole began as part of an asteroid in the innermost main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Its orbit gradually evolved into one very similar to Earth's. Other meteorites for which data exist have orbits that take them into the main belt.

Dr Howard says, ‘I consider myself lucky to handle rocks from space when usually I only know that they come from the curators’ cupboard!

‘The chance to study a meteorite with a known orbit and source, so soon after if falls to Earth, is really exciting.’

Dr Bland concludes, 'It was amazing to find a that we could track back to its origin in the on our first expedition using our small trial network.

'We're cautiously optimistic that this find could be the first of many and if that happens, each find may give us more clues about how the solar system began.'

Provided by American Museum of Natural History (news : web)

Explore further: Life on Mars? Implications of a newly discovered mineral-rich structure

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Discovery of the source of the most common meteorites

Jul 10, 2008

Astronomy & Astrophysics is publishing the first discovery by T. Mothé-Diniz (Brazil) and D. Nesvorný (USA) of asteroids with a spectrum similar to that of ordinary chondrites, the meteoritic material that m ...

Unusual meteorite found in Antarctica

Sep 19, 2006

U.S. scientists say they recovered an unusual meteorite late last year in Antarctica -- a type of lunar meteorite seen only once before.

One-of-a-kind meteorite unveiled

Apr 22, 2006

The depths of space are much closer to home following the University of Alberta's acquisition of a meteorite that is the only one of its kind known to exist on Earth! What makes it so rare? The meteorite is 'pristine' – ...

University of Western Ontario cameras capture 'fireball'

Oct 24, 2008

For the second time this year, The University of Western Ontario Meteor Group has captured incredibly rare video footage of a meteor falling to Earth. The team of astronomers suspects the fireball dropped meteorites in a ...

Recommended for you

Australian amateur Terry Lovejoy discovers new comet

15 hours ago

It's confirmed! Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy just discovered his fifth comet, C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy). He found it August 17th using a Celestron C8 fitted with a CCD camera at his roll-off roof ...

Students see world from station crew's point of view

Aug 19, 2014

NASA is helping students examine their home planet from space without ever leaving the ground, giving them a global perspective by going beyond a map attached to a sphere on a pedestal. The Sally Ride Earth ...

Mars deep down

Aug 19, 2014

Scarring the southern highlands of Mars is one of the Solar System's largest impact basins: Hellas, with a diameter of 2300 km and a depth of over 7 km.

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Nartoon
5 / 5 (1) Nov 06, 2009
This meteorite could just be a small chunk that broke off the bigger asteroid at some point millions of years ago.
OnSiteStudios
5 / 5 (1) Nov 07, 2009
That photo is not an example of time-lapse photography. It is called a long exposure. Time-lapse is when multiple photographs are recorded at intervals of time in order to 'speed up' events that take too long for the human eye to perceive.
Here is an example of a time-lapse film. It shows seven days of action and is compressed into four minutes of viewing time:
http://www.vimeo.com/6739275
yyz
not rated yet Nov 10, 2009
The geology of the Nullarbor Plain, its flat terrain making fallen meteorites stand out, is the perfect location for a meteor network such as this one. Glad to see some early payoff.