California meteorite called rare, speedy

Dec. 20, 2012 at 7:29 PM
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DAVIS, Calif., Dec. 20 (UPI) -- A meteorite that lit up the sky over California last spring was fast, rare and traveled a highly eccentric orbital route to get to Earth, scientists say.

A 70-member international team has published its findings in the journal Science about the cosmic object that created a fireball over the Sierra foothills in Northern California.

The meteorite that fell April 21 was a carbonaceous chondrite, the rarest type known to hit Earth, and was made up of of cosmic dust and presolar materials that helped form the planets in the earliest age of the solar system, they said.

The meteorite, formed about 4.5 billion years ago, traveled an eccentric course through the solar system on its way to Earth, flying from an orbit close to Jupiter toward the sun, passing by Mercury and Venus, and then flying back out to hit Earth.

The size of a minivan, it hit the atmosphere at around 64,000 mph, making it one of the fastest, "most energetic" meteors ever observed, researchers said.

"If this were a much bigger object, it could have been a disaster," study co-author Qing-zhu, a geology professor at the University of California, David, said. "This is a happy story in this case."

The meteorite is estimated to have weighed roughly 100,000 pounds, with most of that mass burning away in the atmosphere when it exploded.

Scientists and private collectors have recovered about 2 pounds of the meteorite's material.

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