A meteorite "the size of a washing machine" broke apart last month and rained on a Costa Rican city. It has since been classified as an "alien mud ball" that could give insights into the origin of our solar system, scientists say.
Residents of Aguas Zarcas, a small town in Costa Rica, originally reported that the meteor appeared as a "big fireball in the sky" when it appeared on April 23. As the meteoroid entered the atmosphere, it broke into hundreds of meteorites that had landed around the city, including a two-pound rock that toppled through someone's roof and broke a dining table.
While dry meteorites are quite common, scientists found that those who landed in Costa Rica were damp. The rare "carbonaceous chondrites" are rich in organic compounds and full of water, which could give insights into the extraction of water from asteroids in space.
"Many carbonaceous chondrites are mud balls that are 80 to 95% clay," said Laurence Garvie, research professor at the School of Earth and Space Exploration and curator at Arizona State University's Center for Meteorite Studies. "Clays are important because water is an integral part of their structure."
According to initial reports, scientists are raging to gain a piece of history before the meteorites could be destroyed by rains. A total of 55 pounds have been recovered so far.
Garvie said that scientists around the world will study the meteorites for years to come to gain insight into the history of the solar system. "Nature has said, 'Here you are,' and now we have to be smart enough to pull apart the individual components and understand what they tell us," Garvie said.
Scientists have already figured out a bit where the meteorite came from. "It formed in a lifeless environment, then spent 4.56 billion years in the cold and vacuum of space and then fell in Costa Rica," Garvie said for 50 years since arriving in Australia in 1969. It became one of the best studied meteorites in the world.
"Carbonaceous chondrites are relatively rare among meteorites, but some of the most sought-after by researchers, because they contain the best evidence of the origin of the solar system," said center director Meenakshi Wadhwa. "This new meteorite is one of the most scientifically significant additions to our wonderful collection in recent years."