Hamburg Meteorite Fragments Might Shed Light on Earth's Past

Scientists from the University of Chicago released an analysis of the space rock recovered in 2018.
Chris Young

A meteorite that came crashing to Earth near Hamburg, Michigan, in 2018 might offer new insight into the role of asteroids in transporting the building blocks of life to Earth, researchers say.

Pieces of the space rock, which traveled through the Earth's atmosphere at approximately 36,000 miles per hour (57,936 km/h) causing an atmospheric shockwave equivalent to a magnitude 2.0 earthquake, were quickly recovered and have now been analyzed in detail as part of a newly-released report.


The Hamburg meteorite

Philipp Heck, co-author of the report and associate professor at the University of Chicago, and his team released their report detailing their analysis of the space rock over the last two years.

"Finding a pebble-sized fragment on a frozen lake or in a snow blanket is difficult if you don’t know where to look," Philipp Heck, who is also the curator for the meteorite, rock and mineral collection at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, told The Guardian.

Small fragments of the space rock, dubbed the Hamburg meteorite, were recovered from Strawberry and Bass Lakes by meteorite hunters acting on information from scientists who had tracked its trajectory using NASA's weather radar.

The new report reveals that the Hamburg meteorite is of a relatively rare subtype known as an H4 chondrite.

Growing our knowledge of asteroids

Heck and his team pointed to the fact that the meteorite contained 2,600 different organic compounds, which supports the idea that meteorites might have played a role in transporting the building blocks of life to our planet.

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"I personally found it stunning how many organic compounds were still in this meteorite despite its thermal metamorphism," Heck told The Guardian.

Impressively, by analyzing argon in the meteorite, the team also found that the space rock was ejected from its parent asteroid some 12 million years ago.

Heck and his team say the meteorite piece they analyzed was relatively uncontaminated for a sample found on Earth. However, in order to gain an even greater understanding of the space rocks, the scientific community is looking to analyze samples extracted directly from asteroids, such as the ones collected by the ongoing NASA OSIRIS-REx mission, which is set to return to Earth in 2023.

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