This week’s What’s on the van? comes from Monica Price, Assistant Curator, Mineral Collections.
“The loudest thunder we had ever heard…”
It’s a very good thing this little piece of dull grey rock, less than 30mm across, has a label on it to say what it is! ‘Meteorolite’ is an old name for a meteorite, and this is part of one that fell over the Cold Bokkeveld valley, Cape Province, South Africa, on 13 October 1838. Kieviet, a servant out collecting wood, gave an eye witness account:
‘It was a fine clear morning; there were no clouds in the sky, and there was no wind. At about nine o’clock a.m., whilst we were busy loading the waggon with wood, close to the foot of the mountain, we heard a strange noise in the air resembling the loudest thunder we had ever heard, and on looking up we perceived a stream passing over our heads, issuing a noise which petrified us with terror; a burst took place close to the waggon, when something fell and a smoke arose from the grass. My master sent me to look what it was that had fallen, when I found a stone quite warm, so much so that I could not hold it in my hands’. (Phil.Trans.Roy. Soc., vol. 130, 1840, 177-182)
The Cold Bokkeveld meteorite came all the way from the asteroid belt, where large and small chunks of rocky debris, left over from the formation of the planets, orbit in a band between Mars and Jupiter. When asteroids collide with each other and get knocked out of their orbits, some pieces find themselves on a collision course with Earth to become meteorites.
This one is a ‘carbonaceous chondrite’, a kind of meteorite that is particularly interesting for scientists because it contains large organic molecules such as amino acids. These are also essential for living organisms; just possibly, meteorites played a role in the origin of life on Earth. It also contains minute diamonds.
The meteorite is about 4.5 billion years old, as old as the Earth itself. The diamonds in it are much older – real star dust from outer space!