Meteor Watch: In Search for Lost Meteorites

Meteor Watch: In Search for Lost Meteorites


When you look into the night sky you might wonder what creates those beautiful falling stars. In fact, falling meteorites are constantly bombarding the earth, most burn up in the atmosphere, but some are lucky enough to reach the surface giving us insight into the past.

According to a technical paper written by the University of New Mexico’s astronomy department, researchers can connect findings with previous sightings to find out when meteorites have fallen.

The most notorious meteorite to be documented is the Meson de Fierro, named large table of iron. Captain de Miraval discovered the large iron mass in 1576 when a Spanish governor sent him on an expedition to present day Campo del Cielo in Argentina. The site was named field of the sky by an Indian for the open plains and scattered meteorites.

Years later in the 1770s the Spanish tried to process pieces of the meteorites in hopes that it was silver. Finding out it was only iron was a let down until a Spanish lieutenant found a specimen that weighed up to 18 tons. Some believe this to be the lost Meson de Fierro.

Since the 1900s the location of the massive meteorite had been lost. Until recently when an American meteorite dealer named Robert Haag “re-discovered” the fall. Unfortunately, Argentine authorities arrested Hagg while transporting a 37-ton meteorite from the area. However, the huge meteorite still remains in Argentina.

In fact, researchers from the University of the Aquiline in Buenos Aires suggest that this 37-ton meteorite might be the notorious Meson de Fierro. The only way to date the meteorite fragments is to carbon date the charred wood found in the craters, wood that was burned when the meteorites fell to earth. By carbon dating the burnt wood found at the Campo crater site researchers determined the meteorite fell between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago.

Since then at least 12 craters have been surveyed in the Campo area. The largest being around 256 ft by 213 ft and the smallest 184 ft by 16 ft in diameter. Researchers have also thought the Campo meteorite is part of the same asteroid as the Russian Sikhote-Alin meteorite that fell in 1960. Scientists know this because of spectral analysis, which uses the reflection of light to laser point an asteroid in orbit. Because the surface of an asteroid is volcanic it makes a reflection, which is traceable by a spectral signature.

The Campo also has the same classification as other known meteorites such as the Canyon Diable or Odessa in the coarse octahedrite class. These landmark findings help determine if this really is the site where the Campo del Cielo meteorite was found. With the help of modern findings paired with Indian oral traditions researchers can determine if the Campo debris field is home to the famous Meson de Fierro.

The technical report, published by a graduate student at the University of New Mexico’s Department of Astronomy in collaboration with researchers at the University of the Aquiline in Buenos Aires sheds insight on the Campo del Cielo Meteorite and the notorious Meson de Fierro. New Mexico’s Department of Astronomy is the world’s foremost center for the study of meteorites and houses each meteorite at the University of New Mexico.

Written by Amanda Myers