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What Are Meteorites?

meteorite found stone

Meteorites are fragments of asteroids or comets that have survived their passage through the Earth’s atmosphere and have impacted the Earth’s surface. These extraterrestrial rocks have fascinated humans for centuries and have provided valuable insights into the formation and evolution of our Solar System, approximately 4.6 billion years ago.

According to current scientific understanding, the Solar System formed from a cloud of gas and dust that collapsed under its own gravity. As this cloud collapsed, it began to spin and flatten into a disk. The Sun formed at the center of this disk, and the remaining gas and dust eventually formed into the planets, moons, asteroids, and comets that we see today.

Meteorites are believed to originate from two main sources: asteroids and comets. Asteroids are rocky and metallic objects that orbit the Sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. They are remnants from the early Solar System that never accreted into a planet. Comets, on the other hand, are icy objects that originate from the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud beyond the orbit of Neptune.

When asteroids or comets collide with each other, fragments can be ejected into space. These fragments can travel through the Solar System and eventually collide with a planet, such as Earth, where they become meteorites. Most meteorites that are found on Earth are believed to be from asteroids, while cometary meteorites are rare.

It’s believed that cometary meteorites could be carbonaceous chondrites. They are a type of stony meteorite that contain a high amount of carbon compounds and volatile elements, which are thought to be characteristic of comets.

Carbonaceous chondrites are believed to originate from the outer regions of the Solar System, beyond the orbit of Jupiter. They are thought to be remnants from the early Solar System that have remained relatively unchanged since their formation, providing valuable information about the conditions that existed in the early Solar System.

Some carbonaceous chondrites have been found to contain organic compounds, including amino acids, which are the building blocks of life. This has led some scientists to speculate that these meteorites could have played a role in the origin of life on Earth.

One famous example of a carbonaceous chondrite is the Murchison meteorite, which fell in Australia in 1969. It is one of the most studied meteorites in history and has provided valuable insights into the chemical and isotopic composition of the early Solar System.

The study of meteorites has provided valuable insights into the formation and evolution of our Solar System. By analyzing the chemical and isotopic composition of meteorites, scientists have been able to determine the age of the Solar System, the processes that led to the formation of planets, and the conditions that existed in the early Solar System.

In conclusion, meteorites are extraterrestrial rocks that have impacted the Earth’s surface. They originate from asteroids and comets and provide valuable insights into the formation and evolution of our Solar System. The study of meteorites has helped scientists to better understand our place in the universe and the processes that have shaped our planet and the objects that surround us.

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Meteorites Science & ispace

ispace lunar lander mission science news

In April 2023, private spaceflight company ispace launched the HAKUTO-R Mission 1 (M1) lander, meant to touch down in the Atlas crater on our Moon on April 25. ispace is a Japanese robotic exploration company that competed in the Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP), sometimes called Moon 2.0. They were awarded $500,000 for the Mobility Subsystem Milestone Prize, which aims to demonstrate a mobility system allowing a spacecraft to move 500 meters after landing. 

Had the launch of M1 been successful, it would have been the first lunar landing accomplished by a commercial mission. The lander launched on December 11, 2022 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. However, ispace lost contact with M1 when it was around 90 meters above the surface of the Moon. “We have to assume that we could not complete the landing,” said ispace chief executive Takeshi Hakamada. 

The lander was carrying the Rashid rover, developed by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai. The rover would have studied particles in the lunar soil and the geological properties of the Moon’s surface. Knowing more about the geological composition of the Moon has great scientific implications for meteorite science, specifically lunar meteorites. 

Although the lander didn’t make it to the Atlas crater, ispace plans a second attempt at a lunar landing in 2024. While the world waits, discoveries are still being made from the samples brought back to Earth by China’s Chang’e-5 Moon mission in 2020. Their craft landed in the Oceanus Procellarum, the “Ocean of Storms,” and picked up the youngest-ever Moon samples returned to Earth. 

At 1.2 billion years old, these Moon rocks are much younger than Apollo return samples, which ranged between 3.1 and 4.4 billion years old. Ongoing study of these samples, from the Apollo and the Chang’e-5 missions, is changing what we know about the Moon, the impact craters we see on its surface, and lunar meteorites. 

For example, scientists have discovered water beads in the lunar dirt collected from the Oceanus Procellarum by China’s spacecraft, leading them to believe there is a new and renewable source of water on the Moon for future space explorers. Ongoing study of these samples can tell us more about lunar meteorites too—the future is bright for meteorite science and spaceflight alike.

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