Image Source: Peter Jenniskens (SETI Institute/NASA Ames) via Live Science.
Caption for the above photograph: "On Oct. 6, 2008, Richard Kowalski, at the Catalina Sky Survey, spotted a new asteroid, dubbed 2008 TC3, on a collision course with Earth. For the first time, astronomers around the world tracked the asteroid's approach for the day before it hit Earth. The asteroid exploded upon entering Earth's atmosphere, and as predicted, it fell in the Nubian Desert of Northern Sudan, where 35 pounds (15.9 kilograms) of meteorites were eventually found. Much of its mass is believed to have been vaporized or to have disintegrated when it hit Earth's atmosphere. It was renamed Almahata Sitta, Arabic for "station six," a railroad stop on the line to Khartoum near where the meteorites were found, according to the auction catalog description."
Well before the Space Age, meteorites brought a little piece of heaven - or hell - down to our world. On May 30, we narrowly avoided an extinction event. A 1.7 mile wide binary asteroid, 1998 QE2, which is so large that it has its own moon (see here and here), just passed earth by a whisker: "White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a press briefing about the asteroid: 'scientists have concluded the asteroid 'poses no threat to planet Earth'. He then laughed and said: 'Never really thought I'd be standing up here saying that, but I guess I am.'" 1998 QE2 is considered to be about the same size as the space rock that landed on earth and likely wiped out the dinosaurs.
Meteorites were not officially linked with their celestial origins until 1803. But people have invested these objects with mystical and divine qualities for millennia, evidently because they knew them to have fallen from the skies. Even today, space rocks have that tangible yet unearthly quality that fascinates. In late 2012, the Heritage Auction house attracted attention when they put up 125 space rocks and meteorites for sale, "offering ... rocks from Mars and the moon, silver meteorite slices studded with peridot gems, a slice of the meteorite that killed a cow in Venezuela, the rear tail-light bulb and title to a car punctured by a meteorite, meteorite jewelry." Immediately below, see some of the items which were auctioned (all Heritage Auctions images and cited text are from this page).
Caption for the above Heritage Auctions photograph: "Meteorites are pieces of asteroids, the moon and Mars that travel to Earth after being ejected from these heavenly bodies. Exotic origins aside, meteorites can be beautiful, mimicking abstract sculpture for example, and many bring interesting stories when they collide with Earth. On Oct. 14, 2012, more than 125 meteorite specimens and related material go up for auction. Here's a look at few of them. Above, the naturally formed holes on this iron Gibeon meteorite found in Namibia give it an animal-like appearance."
Caption for the above Heritage Auctions photograph: "This meteorite, found in China's Gobi Desert, is a pallasite, a class of stony-iron meteorites that contain the mineral olivine. Gem quality olivine, as appears in this meteorite, is called peridot, the August birthstone."
Caption for the above Heritage Auctions photograph: "In 1492, this stone fell from the sky outside the walled city of Ensisheim, located in the Alsatian region France. The stone's descent was seen as a sign from God; the extraterrestrial origin of meteorites would not be accepted for another 300 years. The Ensisheim meteorite was brought into the city and chained up in church to keep it Earth-bound."
Caption for the above Heritage Auctions photograph: "The majority of meteorites break off from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter; rarer specimens come from the moon or Mars. This one, found in the Sahara Desert, is a lunar meteorite."
Caption for the above Heritage Auctions photograph: "In 1803, the L'Aigle meteorite landed in Normandy, France, convincing French scientists that rocks did indeed fall from the sky, and so ushering in widespread acceptance of the extraterrestrial origin of meteorites. This L'Aigle specimen bears an antique parchment label."
Caption for the above Heritage Auctions photograph: "This partial slice comes from the Valera meteorite, which killed a cow when it landed in Venezuela in 1972. The cow was subsequently slaughtered and eaten, and the meteorite was used as a doorstop. This is the only meteorite known to have been responsible for a fatality."
Below the jump, see some of the world's most famous and mystical meteorites, objects which unite human celestial fascination of the ancient world with that of the future. The most interesting is perhaps a mysterious meteorite carved into a Buddhist figure in the Middle Ages, which the Nazis stole from Tibet during World War II.
Meteorite jewellery in Ancient Egypt: an analysis of this Gerzeh bead showed it was crafted from a space rock. Image Source: Live Science via Open University via Yahoo.
The ancients used meteorites as sacred objects in jewellery and statues. We know their origins because the iron in them was worked by intense cold, rather than intense heat, as in earthbound manufacturing. Yahoo reports from a Live Science article:
An ancient Egyptian iron bead found inside a 5,000-year-old tomb was crafted from a meteorite, new research shows.
The tube-shaped piece of jewelry was first discovered in 1911 at the Gerzeh cemetery, roughly 40 miles (70 kilometers) south of Cairo. Dating between 3350 B.C. and 3600 B.C., beads found at the burial site represent the first known examples of iron use in ancient Egypt, thousands of years before Egypt's Iron Age. And their cosmic origins were suspected from the start.
Soon after the beads were discovered, researchers showed that the metal jewelry was rich in nickel, a signature of iron meteorites. ... Scientists from the Open University and the University of Manchester recently analyzed one of the beads with an electron microscope and an X-ray CT scanner. They say the nickel-rich chemical composition of the bead's original metal confirms its meteorite origins.
What's more, the researchers say the bead had a Widmanstätten pattern, a distinctive crystal structure found only in meteorites that cooled at an extremely slow rate inside asteroids when the solar system was forming, according to Nature. Further investigation also showed that the bead was not molded under heat, but rather hammered into shape by cold-working.
The first record of iron smelting in ancient Egypt comes from the sixth century B.C., and iron artifacts from before that time are quite rare, Nature reported.
"Today, we see iron first and foremost as a practical, rather dull metal," study researcher Joyce Tyldesley, an Egyptologist at the University of Manchester, said in a statement. "To the ancient Egyptians, however, it was a rare and beautiful material which, as it fell from the sky, surely had some magical/religious properties."
The iron beads' inclusion in burials also suggests this material was deeply important to ancient Egyptians, Tyldesley added.
This is the 'Iron Man,' the only known human-divine statue carved from a space rock; it is a Buddhist statue, dating to the 8th to 10th centuries; the rock itself is millennial older. Image Source: Elmar Buchner (Stuttgart University) via Live Science.
In September 2012, Live Science reported that the Nazis had tracked down a Buddha statue carved from a meteorite. The meteorite fell 10,000 to 20,000 years ago in China; the statue was carved from the space rock in the medieval period, between the 8th and 10th centuries:
This artifact shows the literal hybridization of religion, myth and our understanding of the heavens. Below, some of the most famous meteorites on earth (cited text and images from a Live Science gallery here), and one which we have discovered on Mars.It sounds like a mash-up of Indiana Jones' plots, but German researchers say a heavy Buddha statue brought to Europe by the Nazis was carved from a meteorite that likely fell 10,000 years ago along the Siberia-Mongolia border.
This space Buddha, also known as "iron man" to the researchers, is of unknown age, though the best estimates date the statue to sometime between the eighth and 10th centuries. The carving depicts a man, probably a Buddhist god, perched with his legs tucked in, holding something in his left hand. On his chest is a Buddhist swastika, a symbol of luck that was later co-opted by the Nazi party of Germany.
"One can speculate whether the swastika symbol on the statue was a potential motivation to displace the 'iron man' meteorite artifact to Germany," the researchers wrote online Sept. 14 in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science. ...
The iron man first came to Germany after a 1938-1939 Tibet expedition by zoologist and ethnology Ernst Schäfer, who was sent to the region by the Nazi party to find the roots of Aryan origin. The statue then passed into the hands of a private owner. ...
Stuttgart University researcher Elmar Bucher and his colleagues first analyzed the statue in 2007, when the owner allowed them to take five miniscule samples of it. In 2009, the team had the opportunity to take larger samples from the inside of the statue, which is less prone to contamination by weathering or human handling than the outside where the initial samples were taken. ...
A chemical analysis of the iron man samples revealed they are a close match for a famous scattering of space rocks from the Siberia and Mongolian border. The Chinga meteorite field holds at least 250 meteorite fragments, most relatively small, though two topping 22 pounds (10 kg) have been found there. Scientists estimate the Chinga meteorite fell 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. The field's first discovery was recorded in 1913, but the statue's existence suggests people were mining the field for artistic materials long before that, Buchner said.
The identity of the carved man is unclear, but the researchers suspect he may be the Buddhist god Vaisravana, also known as Jambhala. Vaisravana is the god of wealth or war, and he is often portrayed holding a lemon (a symbol of wealth) or moneybag in his hand. The iron man holds an unidentified object in his hand. The statue is about 9.5 inches (24 cm) tall and weighs about 23 pounds (10.6 kg).
Many cultures used meteorite iron to make daggers and even jewelry, Buchner and his colleagues wrote, and meteorite worship is common among many ancient cultures. But the Buddha carving is unique.
"The Iron Man statue is the only known illustration of a human figure to be carved into a meteorite, which means we have nothing to compare it to when assessing value," Buchner said in a statement. "Its origins alone may value it at $20,000; however, if our estimation of its age is correct and it is nearly a thousand years old it could be invaluable."
Caption for the above photograph: "Occasionally, meteorites bring something new to Earth. This 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite landed in northwest Africa. Inside, scientists discovered a mineral called krotite, which had never been found in nature before. Krotite forms at high temperatures and low pressure, and was likely one of the first minerals in the newly emerging solar system."
Caption for the above photograph: "The Orgueil meteorite fell in France in 1864 and caused a firestorm in scientific circles in 2011. NASA scientist Richard Hoover claimed in March 2011 in the Journal of Cosmology that filaments in the meteorite, seen under a scanning electron microscope, could be evidence of extraterrestrial bacteria. Other scientists, however, called foul, pointing out that the structures could be created by non-organic processes."
Caption for the above photograph: "Until the 1980s, scientists believed that all meteorites came from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. This white-speckled rock changed all that. Researchers found it in Antarctica in 1981 and noticed its similarity to the moon rocks that Apollo astronauts brought back to Earth. Sure enough, tests showed that this rock came from the moon. In the next 15 years, 11 other moon rocks would be found on Earth."
Caption for the above photograph: "The Willamette meteorite is the largest ever found in North America. A settler named Ellis Hughes found the meteorite in Oregon in 1902 and moved the 15.5-ton iron rock to his own property. ... The meteorite is now on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City."
Heat Shield Rock on Mars: "NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity found this iron meteorite on the Red Planet, the first meteorite ever found on another world." Image Source: NASA via Live Science.