A fireball meteor streaked across the sky in the US before landing on a frozen lake in Michigan on January 16, 2018. Astronomers scrambled to the site to collect the valuable meteorite, before its chemical make-up was contaminated too much.
This decisive action allowed scientists to get a rare glimpse at how an asteroid acts in outer space.
This meteorite is special because it fell onto a frozen lake and was recovered quickly
Professor Philipp Heck
And most amazing of all, asteroid analysts were granted the rare opportunity to peer first-hand at ‘pristine’ organic compounds some suggest can reveal the origins of life itself.
Professor Philipp Heck of the University of Chicago and lead author of the new paper, said in a statement: “This meteorite is special because it fell onto a frozen lake and was recovered quickly.
“It was very pristine. We could see the minerals weren’t much altered and later found that it contained a rich inventory of extraterrestrial organic compounds.
“These kinds of organic compounds were likely delivered to the early Earth by meteorites and might have contributed to the ingredients of life.”
When the fireball arrived in Michigan, scientists used US space agency NASA’s weather radar to track where the pieces crash landed. “
Professor Heck added: “Weather radar is meant to detect hail and rain.
“These pieces of meteorite fell into that size range, and so weather radar helped show the position and velocity of the meteorite.
“That meant that we were able to find it very quickly.”
Less than two days after it landed, meteorite hunter Robert Ward spotted the first fragment of the meteorite on the frozen surface of Michigan’s Strawberry Lake.
Mr Ward worked with Terry Boudreaux to donate the meteorite to the Field Museum, where Heck and graduate student Jennika Greer started to study the errant space rock.
Mz Greer said: ”When the meteorite arrived at the Field, I spent the entire weekend analysing it, because I was so excited to find out what kind of meteorite it was and what was in it.
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“With every meteorite that falls, there’s a chance that there’s something completely new and totally unexpected.”
The researchers determined the meteorite was an H4 chondrite, which is exceedingly rare, as approximately only four percent of all Earth-bound meteorites are of this category.
However, what makes the Hamburg meteorite all-the-more exceptional is due to how quickly it was collected and how well-analysed it is.
Professor Greer said: ”This meteorite shows a high diversity of organics, in that if somebody was interested in studying organics, this is not normally the type of meteorite that they would ask to look at.
“But because there was so much excitement surrounding it, everybody wanted to apply their own technique to it, so we have an unusually comprehensive set of data for a single meteorite.”
Scientists now need to understand exactly how such organic compounds responsible first arrived on Earth.
A leading theory suggests they hitched-hiked to our planet via such meteorites.
But this does not necessarily mean the meteorites themselves contain alien life.
Instead, some of the organic compounds that help make up life might have first formed in an asteroid that later fell to Earth.
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