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The Sciences

Danish turnover meteorites

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitMarch 15, 2009 6:14 PM

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In January, a very bright meteor called a bolide or fireball streaked across the north Atlantic skies, and was seen over Denmark and Sweden. Now it's being reported that German meteorite hunter Thomas Grau has found fragments of it on an island off the coast of Denmark. Here's the story in German and in in Danish. [Update: more info (in Danish) and pictures are at the Geologisk Museum site. Thanks to commenter jf below for that!].

danish_meteorites.jpg

Apparently (using Babel fish and my own rusty knowledge of German) Grau studied the video of the fireball and collected eyewitness reports, and used this to track the path of the meteor. A lot of it lay over water, but there was an island in a likely spot called Lolland. He searched, and found small chunks of meteorites there. Normally, I'd have my doubts that these were associated with that particular fireball, but he claims there were in a small crater, which indicates a fresh fall. The picture shown here is from Grau himself of the rocks in situ. Actually, I've never seen meteorites piled up like that before, though my experience with this is limited. One or two skeptical alarm bells are going off in my head -- the odd pattern, coupled with no eye witnesses on the island itself that night (it was cloudy), plus what are the chances of finding such a small cluster of meteorites on a 1200 square kilometer island? -- but they have been given to a museum which I hope is studying them thoroughly. I'm not saying this has been faked, don't get me wrong, but it's just weird. I'd like to get more information on this. The meteorites are carbonaceous chondrites, a relatively rare class of rock that are considered unprocessed; that is, pretty much unchanged since their formation out of the solar nebula. This makes them very old -- I have a small specimen that's been dated as 4.57 billion years old, older than the Earth itself! -- and very valuable, as they are tracers of what conditions were like while the planets were forming. They also sometimes have amino acids in them, meaning that by studying them we can get some insight into what the precursor conditions for life were like in the solar system. So if this all pans out, it'll be a major find for science. I'll note that this was why I was so excited about the Texas fireball in February-- the more eye witnesses you get, and video of course, the more likely you can find the meteorites themselves... and in that case some were eventually found, too. So if you see a bright fireball, report it! Tip o' the Whipple shield to BABloggees Christian Schwietzke and Lars Nielsen.

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