Slashdot reader sciencehabit tells the strange story of a 4.5-billion-year-old meteor from “the cold void beyond Jupiter” that sent “blazing fireballs and rocks raining down on farms and fields.”
On 23 April 2019, a space rock the size of a washing machine broke up in the skies over Aguas Zarcas, a village carved out of Costa Rica’s rainforest. The falling fragments, which crashed through roofs and doghouses, set off a frenzy of hunting — for this rare meteorite soon became more valuable than gold.
Meteorites are not uncommon: Every year, tens of thousands survive the plunge through Earth’s atmosphere. But meteorite falls, witnessed strikes that take their name from where they land, are rare — just 1,196 have been documented. And even among that exclusive group, there was something extraordinary about this particular meteorite: The dull stone was, as far as rocks go, practically alive. Aguas Zarcas, as the fragments would soon collectively be called, is a carbonaceous chondrite, a pristine remnant of the early Solar System. The vast majority of meteorites are lumps of stone or metal. But carbonaceous chondrites are rich in carbon — including organic molecules as complex as amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. They illustrate how chemical reactions in space give rise to complex precursors for life; some scientists even believe rocks like Aguas Zarcas gave life a nudge when they crashed into a barren Earth 4.5 billion years ago.
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