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Traveling at an estimated 33,000 mph, faster than the speed of sound, a 10-ton meteor broke into pieces above Earth on February 15, 2013. One meteorite hurtled onward toward Earth, streaking brilliantly across the sky above Chelyabinsk, Russia. Its shockwaves shattered more than 4,000 windows and engaged car alarms. Approximately 1,000 people sustained injuries. Scientists estimated the sonic boom explosions were equivalent to several atomic bombs, and officials estimated repairs may cost as much as 33 million dollars.
Later that same day, an asteroid with a simple name, DA14, passed Earth. With 15,150 miles between DA14 and Earth, it was considered a close passing. Scientists had tracked DA14’s trajectory. Scientists and space fans were excited about its close encounter. DA14 was big news before Friday, but compared to the booms and crashes delivered by the surprise actual landing of the meteorite in Russia, DA14’s passing seemed anticlimactic.
Both events caused people to look skyward, to ponder the immensity of space, the fragility of life, the unknown that orbits and speeds above us, and the connections between space and life on Earth. Newspapers and media sources revisited the demise of the dinosaurs, interviewed meteorite hunters, and questioned scientists who map the universe. Keep your focus heavenward a little longer as you discover more about asteroids, meteors and meteorites.
Space is full of rocks: asteroids, comets, and meteoroids among them. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory introduces visitors to the different types of space rocks, investigates their features, and explains their importance. Explore their interactive feature: Keeping an Eye on Space Rocks. Begin by listening to the introduction. Learn about comets, asteroids, potentially hazardous objects, meteors and meteorites, and near-Earth objects by clicking on each title, one at a time. Turn your attention to questions of size and open the next section: Size Matters. Here you will ponder: Why does size matter? How often is Earth hit by a space rock large enough to threaten life? Where is there evidence on Earth of space rock landings? (Pay particular attention to the site in the Yucatan, Mexico.) How big is too big? Advance to the next section, Location, Location, Location, and read about space rock collisions throughout the solar system. The early bird may catch the worm but scientific discovery, technology, and mission will keep Earth safe from impacts with space rocks. Learn how each will contribute to our safety in the final section, The Early Bird.
Learn all about meteors and meteorites at NASA’s Solar System 101. You will find more information hiding under the planets tab along the top. Begin by reading the definition of meteoroids, meteors, and meteorites, then explore the icons around the dial. Each icon represents a different section: Image Gallery, People, Homework Helper, News, Most Recent Missions, Timeline, Extreme Facts, and 10 Need-To-Know Things. In the Image Gallery, view the first page of images. You may enlarge an image by clicking on it. The gallery of people introduces you to four scientists who work at NASA. Select a name from the menu on the left, and open the link to learn ‘more’ about the work she (or he) does. The homework helper shares four sections: Just the Facts, Dig Deeper, Create a Report, and Even More Stuff. Read the article featured in the Just the Facts section. Return to the dial to read the most recent news about meteors and meteorites. Learn about the Leonid Mac missions to study Leonid meteors in the Most Recent Missions and Timeline sections of the dial. Visit the final two notches on the dial to read four extreme facts and 10 need-to-know things about meteoroids, meteors, and meteorites.
Meteorids, meteors, and meteorites are space rocks. But, that makes them sound common and, perhaps, ugly. In reality, meteorites come in a range of sizes, textures, and colors. They can be quite lovely. View a gallery of meteorites at the Smithsonian Institute’s Dynamic Earth exhibit. The link to the GeoGallery is located along the bottom menu. Once inside the Gallery, select meteorite from the menu of categories.
As you might guess after seeing a range of different meteorites, there are different kinds of meteorites. How are meteorites categorized? Find the answer to this question; select The Solar System from the main menu, and then choose meteorites. Click on the images of the rocks to open the section about meteorite classification. The introduction explains how meteorites are named and their three broad categories: stones, stony-irons, and irons. There are subcategories as well with good sciencey names that will come in handy during word games: chondrites, achondrites, irons, pallasites, and mesosiderites. Read about each subcategory to learn what each type of rock teaches scientists about space and Earth, and to see examples of each. (Each subcategory is accessed using the black menu bar along the bottom.) Use the red ‘Exhibits in this Section’ menu to move through the section.
Where are meteorites found and by whom? Select Discovering Meteorites from the blue menu above the main content box. From here you can access the five exhibits in this section: Commonly Asked Questions, Where Do Meteorites Come From?, Recognizing Meteorites, Where Do We Find Meteorites?, and From Superstition to Science. Once again, you will use the black menu bar along the bottom to learn more about each of the five exhibits, and the red ‘Exhibits in this Section’ menu to advance through the section.
The Antarctica Search for Meteorites program (ANSMET) is a joint venture of the National Science Foundation and NASA. Meteorites are important because they help us learn about the ingredients that make up the solar system. Currently, ANSMET is the only source of new meteorites. Join the 35 ANSMET field teams in their search for meteorites in Antarctica. Why is Antarctica the best place to search for meteorites? It is not the easiest place to reach. Follow the scientists’ journey to Antarctica. Discover how meteorites are found, collected, and protected. What is it like to live and work in Antarctica? ANSMET teams conduct reconnaissance missions to find new meteorite fields; tag along on a recon mission. Learn the answers to FAQs about ANSMET and meteorites.
Space is interesting in part because it is the vast, beautiful unknown just above us. But, it is also interesting because understanding space helps explain how life on Earth came to be—how we came to be. Scientists are exploring the possibility that meteorites brought the ingredients for life to Earth. Follow the timeline to discover what scientists have learned about space rocks and life on Earth.
Dinosaurs disappeared from Earth long, long ago. Remember the meteorite landing site in the Yucantan? Some believe that meteorite caused environmental changes that led to the dinosaurs’ extinction. Read the evidence scientists cite to support this theory.