Peter Chamberlin

A meteorite makes an interesting gift

On the Sikhote-Alin Meteorite,

For my birthday this year I received a meteorite fragment. A piece of shrapnel in fact. It arrived on Earth at about 10.30am on the morning of 12th February 1947, landing in the Sikhote-Alin mountains of the Russian Far East.

Sikhote-Alin meteorite fragment
My piece of the Sikhote-Alin meteor

The Sikhote-Alin meteorite is perhaps the best known and collected of all meteorites, so I don't exactly have a precious rarity in my hands. It was well documented at the time, being widely eye-witnessed, and members of the USSR Academy of Sciences were on the scene within a couple of months. Which is a rapid response compared to the 19 years it took before anyone investigated the much larger Tunguska event of 1908. It's said that the explosion of the meteorite could be seen for a radius of 300km around.

The trajectory and origin of the meteor was calculated by V.G. Fesenkov, plotting it's aphelion to have been in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It probably originated there, displaced as a result of collisions in the belt into an elliptical orbit.

The meteor's composition was 93% iron, with 5.9% Nickel, and a little Cobalt, Phosphorous and Sulphur, and it's mass is estimated to have been around 100,000kg. That's a lump of iron the size of a minibus.

One witness to the event was the artist P.J. Medvedev, who was working at the time and incorporated the event into his composition. His painting of the event was reproduced on a commemorative stamp in 1957. There was also a Russian documentary made about the event in 1956, which can be downloaded with English subtitles from the Meteorites Australia website.

On a personal level a meteorite fragment is a strange thing to own. My fragment is a small, unusual lump of metal which sits quietly in my hand, but my mind boggles to consider the journey it's been on. It came from the other side of Mars and it met it crashed on the other side of the Earth from where I sit. It's a reminder that the Earth is really very small, that time and space are enormous, but also that we are successfully inquisitive beings.

The fact that we humans can analyse and understand a meteorite, it's composition and origin, is testimony to our collective ingenuity. Shoulders of giants and all that.

Sources and further reading:

Find me on Twitter @pgchamberlin, or maybe read my rambling about the Ulam Spiral if you like that sort of thing.