Science & Technology

Meteorites: Extraterrestrial gems and planet killers

By Clea House

Madrid, Feb 9 (EFE-EPA).- The Enigma, an incredibly rare black diamond from outer space, sent buyers into a frenzy and fetched 3.16 million pounds ($4.3 million) at a Wednesday auction at London’s Sotheby’s.

The precious stone is thought to have formed from a supernova explosion that forged diamonds in space. Fragments from this explosion showered onto the Earth 2.6 to 3.8 billion years ago.

“This sale of the Enigma is a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire one of the rarest, billion year old cosmic wonders known to humankind,” Sotheby’s said.


It is not the first meteorite to have stormed the auction world.

In 2016, a 650 kilogram chunk of meteorite sold for $1.2 million at a Christie’s auction.

According to NASA, most meteorites that make their way to Earth originate from the asteroid belt on the edge of the solar system. A few hundred meteorites come from the Moon and Mars, too.

Humans have been fascinated with asteroids and meteors ever since they were first spotted flashing through the night sky.

Without the advances of science, ancient civilizations thought comets were an ominous sign of an impending change. In some cultures, comets signaled the birth of someone important – some believe that the comet that led the Three Kings to Bethlehem ushered in the arrival of baby Jesus.

Meteorites, particularly those made of metal, have been found in shrines and tombs around the world but the most fertile ground for these elusive gems is in a small town in southern Kansas.

Between 10 and 20 thousand years ago, a large metallic meteorite slammed into the area around the town of Brenham.

Since the extraterrestrial metal particles were first discovered in 1883, Brenham has become a mecca for meteorite hunters who scour the land in search of the rare metal and hybrid stones.

In 2005, Steve Arnold discovered the largest pallasite fragment ever found in the United States using a homemade metal detector. It was this rock which fetched over $1 million at Christie’s a year later.


But it was one of these objects that have been cascading into our planet for millenia, that was responsible for the mass extinction that occurred 66 million years ago when it struck the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico wiping out the entire dinosaur population.

Scientists at NASA have said that the Earth is long overdue another planet killer, and this hypothesis not only fascinates scientists, but also fuels our cinematic obsession with space disasters.

Netflix doomsday comedy Don’t Look Up! is just the latest in a long line of movies and books that tout asteroids as bringers of mass destruction, but how scared should we be about a potential impact with Earth?

“Well it depends – the chances of a really, really big asteroid, like one that would end our civilization for example, are really very, very small,” Patricia Sánchez Blázquez, researcher at the Complutense University in Madrid, tells Efe.

“We think we already have detected around 90% of these really big – above 1 kilometer – asteroids and we know that none of them will hit the earth in the next 100 years,” the astrophysicist adds.

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