Meteorite unlocks solar system secrets

Sept. 27, 2005 at 9:46 PM
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Sept. 27 (UPI) -- An unusual meteorite that fell onto a frozen Canadian lake five years ago has helped scientists discover some solar system secrets.

Florida State University Geological Sciences Professor Munir Humayun says the meteorite led to a breakthrough in understanding the origin of the chemical elements that make up the Solar System.

Humayun of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Alan Brandon of NASA and colleagues discovered an isotopic anomaly in the rare element osmium within the primitive meteorite.

The anomalous osmium was derived from small stars with a higher neutron density than that which formed our solar system.

"Our new data enabled us to catch a glimpse of the different star types that contributed elements to the solar system," Humayun said. "It opens a treasure trove of prospects for exploring the formation of the elements."

Humayun obtained the samples from a primitive meteorite that fell onto Tagish Lake in January 2000. Unlike iron meteorites, primitive meteorites are not preserved long on the Earth's surface because they disintegrate when exposed to water. This one was retrieved within 48 hours of its fall in frigid Arctic winter.

The research appears in the journal Science.

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