Science

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AP/NASA
Astronomer Peter Jenniskens in the
Sudan desert with one of the fragments
from the 2008 TC3 asteroid.

Astronomers in Sudan Make History, Match Meteorites With an Asteroid

March 27, 2009 12:00 PM
by Haley A. Lovett
Scientists in Sudan have found 5kg of meteorites from the asteroid 2008 TC3, making history and aiding future observations of asteroids.

Astronomers Hunt for Meteorites in Sudan, Make History With Finds

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The asteroid 2008 TC3 first made history last October when scientists at the University of Arizona discovered that it was on a collision course with Earth. Just a day later, as predicted, the asteroid entered the Earth’s atmosphere about 23 miles above the ground. This marked the first time astronomers had predicted and observed Earth’s collision with space debris.

Scientists began an extensive hunt for any remains from the car-sized object, although at first they weren’t very hopeful they’d find anything. “We didn’t know if anything would have survived.” Peter Jenniskens of the SETI institute told New Scientist, “Never before has a meteoroid been recovered for something that exploded this high up in the atmosphere, and that makes the explosion very energetic, turning most of the thing into dust.”

According to New Scientist, using data from NASA along with eyewitness accounts of the meteor, Dr. Muawia Shaddad of the University of Khartoum and some of his students began combing the desert for remains of the asteroid. They walked across 29 kilometers of desert to try and locate pieces of the asteroid, and eventually were successful. In the report submitted to Nature magazine by Shaddad, Jenniskens and other scientists involved in the discovery of the fragments, the scientists explain that they uncovered 47 meteorites in all, with a weight of 3.95kg. The fragments found were identified as part of an F-class asteroid. Chemically, the meteorites are classified as ureilites.

Analysis: Linking meteorites to asteroids, what we learn

With discovery of meteorites from the asteroid 2008 TC3, scientists have been able to create a real link between F-class asteroids (which are rare) and the ureilite meteorites (which are also rare). Using this data, scientists have now linked the 2008 TC3 asteroid with a larger F-class asteroid, the 1.5-mile diameter 1998 KU2. It is thought that the two asteroids may have originated from the same place in the solar system, and using data from the observed orbit of 2008 TC3 before it collided with earth, scientists may be able to find the precise location from which these bodies came.

In a NASA sponsored conference, cosmic mineralogist Michael E. Zolensky called the link between ureilite meteorites and F-class asteroids, “the first step towards a Rosetta stone of understanding asteroids.” Discovering the actual makeup of meteoroids from asteroids previously studied can also help shed light on how accurate the observations of scientists have been about the makeup of space debris, and can help improve future observations.

Recent close encounters with large asteroids, along with the discovery of a potentially devastating asteroid on a course that may bring it near Earth, have given scientists a reason to explore potential ways to avoid catastrophic collisions. The discovery of these meteorites provides more clues about how to deal with certain types of asteroids. According to AP, at a NASA conference Zolensky said that blowing up an F-class asteroid would be a bad move, because with this type of asteroid, “If you blow it up, all the pieces are heading towards Earth.”

Reference: Space debris and famous meteorites

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