On January 3, 1970, a meteorite fell near Lost City, Oklahoma. A meteor is what we call a piece of asteroid material that streaks through our skies. As it enters Earth’s atmosphere, atmospheric friction usually creates a temporary glow in a streak of light for a few seconds. If the meteoroid doesn’t incinerate completely as it falls through Earth’s atmosphere, it may disintegrate into fragments or meteorites and land on Earth.
Scientists study meteorites to learn about the objects’ origins and history. From the mid 1960s to mid 1970s, the Smithsonian Observatory Prairie Network Meteor Patrol ran a system of 16 camera stations in seven midwestern states. Their photos recorded the Lost City meteorite fall and helped speed recovery of the meteorite fragments. Scientists also used the photos to calculate the meteorite’s orbit and its origin in the solar asteroid belt.
The Lost City meteorite was a type called chondrite, a relatively strong material and thought to date from time of our solar system’s formation, about 4.55 billion years. A piece of this meteorite is on display with pieces from other meteorite recoveries at the American Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
Meteorite recovery helps scientists confirm or refine their understanding of solar system material and helps answer questions. How does luminosity of the light trail indicate a meteorite’s physical makeup? How does luminosity indicate size of the falling body? How accurate was calculation from the angle of the light trail to location of the landing area? How does the size of the object relate to impact damage? How does the object compare with other recorded meteorites? What processes and pressures have acted upon it within Earth’s atmosphere? What happens to the object when the speed of its fall is affected by surface winds? How does the object’s shape affect its path?
We continue to learn about our planet from interstellar objects like these fragments along with the trails they leave. So many questions yet to answer!
B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage