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FOUND: A 4.5 Billion Year Old Meteorite, Almost Swallowed By the Earth

The meteorite (Photo: Curtin University)

Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre is an amazing place, all on its own. It’s the lowest natural point in Australia, and when it’s full, it’s the largest lake on the continent, too. For most of the year, though, it is bone-dry—until the rainy season comes, and the strangest things can wash up.

The researchers from Curtin University had zeroed in on this location as the spot where a meteorite that fell to Earth in November and had spent weeks trying to find it, using data from a new network of cameras they had set up, which they call the Desert Fireball Network. They knew it was somewhere in the area of the lake, and they had sent a drone, an aerial spotter, two researchers on a quad bike, and local guides out to try to find it. 

But because recently there have been heavy rains in this area, the site of the impact was already obscured, as the lake bottom turned wet. In a video taken of the researchers, you can see their tire tracks and foot prints sticking in the thick lake mud.

When they finally found the site, with the help of the aerial reconnaissance, it was almost 4 miles from the lake’s edge. And the weather threatened to turn rainy again, which would have wiped out any trace of the meteorite’s location.

The researchers got there on New Year’s Eve, under cloudy skies, and used a completely ancient device to actually remove the space object. They dug out the meteorite by hand. It was more than 1.37 feet down in the ground. Judging from the data already collecting, they calculated that it had come from somewhere between Mars and Jupiter. It’s more than 4.5 billion years oldolder than the Earth, they point out–and because of the data gathered with the camera network, the researchers can also plot its orbit. 

It’s one of only 20 meteorites for which that’s possible, and it means the researchers could, potentially, retrace its course backwards, to learn more about the origins of our solar system.

Bonus finds: Alaskan shipwrecks, 3,400-year-old citadel

Every day, we highlight one newly lost or found object, curiosity or wonder. Discover something unusual or amazing? Tell us about it! Send your finds to sarah.laskow@atlasobscura.com.