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The ‘Mona Lisa of meteorites’ evidence of the most violent cosmic collision in 3 billion years

By Scott Kaufman
Sunday, June 22, 2014 13:11 EDT
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Earth Planet with Rising Sun and Asteroid Belt (Elements of this image furnished by NASA) Shutterstock
 
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Chicago’s Field Museum recently acquired four fossilized meteorites that scientists believe to be the product of the most violent collision in the solar system in the past 3 billion years.

They are called “the Mona Lisa of meteorites” both for their rareness — only one in every five hundred meteorites is fossilized — and their beauty.

“Out of the 50,000 meteorites that are known, these are very rare,” Philipp Heck, associate curator of meteorites and polar studies at the Field Museum, told WGN. “These are fossil meteorites. They were not found on the surface of the Earth, but deep in the sediment — in an ancient sea floor that is now exposed on the surface.”

“They fell to Earth 500 million years ago, into the sea, and dropped down all the way to the sea floor, got embedded in the sediment and then became fossilized,” he continued.

“The fossil is 500 million years old, but the meteorite itself is much older — 4.6 billion years old, the same age as the solar system,” Heck said.

When Heck and his team analyzed particles within the meteorite, they discovered that the meteorites are fragments of asteroids, the result of “the biggest collision in the solar system in the last 3 billion years.”

“We have different lines of evidence that indicate that they all came from the same asteroid between Mars and Jupiter 500 million years ago, after this asteroid got disrupted by a major collision. That collision was the most violent collision that occurred in the Solar System in the last three billion years,” he said.

The meteorites are contained within a block of limestone, next to the fossilized remains of a cephalopod. “It’s in the limestone, not in the meteorite. The meteorite didn’t kill that animal. They were just deposited at the same time,” Heck added.

You can listen to an interview with Philipp Heck, associate curator for meteorites at the Field Museum, here.

["Earth Planet with Rising Sun and Asteroid Belt (Elements of this image furnished by NASA)" on Shutterstock]

Scott Kaufman
Scott Kaufman
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
 
 
 
 
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