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Meteorite Conference

Andrea Towers/MEDILL

Curators and collection officials unveil the newest meteorite additions to the Field Museum.

Fragments of Russian meteorite land at the Field Museum

by Andrea Towers
Apr 9, 2013

Field Museum scientists are hoping that pieces of a 24,000-pound meteorite that fell to earth in February will help them understand the beginnings of our solar system.

Estimated to be 4.5 billion years old, the meteorite may help unlock the secrets about our environment and how our planets were formed, Field scientists said Tuesday.

Donated by private meteorite collector Terry Boudreaux, this gift goes on public display Wednesday.

Meteorites are considered the oldest rocks or samples on earth. Their age and preservation abilities allow them to be useful in determining information about our planet, from the way the environment has evolved to how planets are formed.

When fragments of the meteorite exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia on Feb. 15, it was the largest space object to hit earth since 1908. Its falling debris injured approximately 1,500 people.

“This was one of the most important events in modern civilization. It affected thousands of people. It made people realize that we are vulnerable for a meteorite impact,” said Philipp Heck, Field’s assistant curator of Meteoritics and Polar Studies.

Part of the reason this meteor was significant was that a broken part, hailing from the inner asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars, exploded over a populated area, Heck said. With more than 200 pieces collected from locals, scientists have a significant opportunity study and learn about the early beginnings of planet Earth.

“Meteorites tell us a lot about planetary formation,” said James Holstein, the museum’s collections manager for Meteoritics and Physical Geology. “They come from the asteroid belt, but there are also meteorites that come from planets like Mars and the moon, so we learn about those indirectly. We can learn about our origins, our solar system and about creating our solar system.”

A meteorite, commonly referred to as a “shooting star,” is a small particle from a comet or asteroid. Its typical range is one meter wide and the visible streak of light is due to space debris, a result of heat as it enters the planet’s atmosphere.
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