A team of scientists at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, have achieved what seemingly was impossible – to discover the origin and the conclusion of a space rock. The team of scientists conducted this study on nearly 600 fist-sized asteroids.
Peter Jeniskens of the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center said, “It’s like a small window into the very early times of our solar system … before there was such a thing as Earth.”
But what is an Asteroid?
An asteroid is a small, rocky object and when seen in a telescope, it appears as a point of light, according to NASA. Most asteroids are found in a ring between the orbit of Mars and Jupiter called the asteroid belt.
These celestial objects are the remains of the period during which our solar system formed, over 4.6 billion years ago.
To discover the life-cycle of a meteor is not an easy task. Scientists began by studying an 88-ton asteroid called 2008-TC3. They mapped its trajectory and impact point. When it entered the Earth’s surface, it burned up and broke up into small chunks which fell onto the surface and were later recovered by the team.
Andrew Fraknoi, Emeritus Chair of the Department of Astronomy at the College in Los Altos Hills said, “What makes this work particularly exciting is that scientists were able to track the incoming meteorite, to know where it would have fallen, and then was able to find specific remains.”
The asteroid chunks landed in Sudan where Jeniskens flew to in a hope to find the missing pieces and the first piece was found after a tedious grid search of about 19 miles across sand plains of Sudan.
“There are a lot of rocks in the desert,” Jeniskens said. “But we were looking for rocks covered in a ‘fusion layer’ of dark glass.”
“The very first meteorite was found in the afternoon search in just 2 1/2 hours. Everyone started dancing and singing and shouting. We had a big party,” he further added.