Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Happy landings

As well as being the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birthday, February the twelfth is the 66th anniversary of the fall of the Sikhote-Alin meteorite.

It was a big fall; an estimated 30 tons have been recovered so far from what is probably a total mass of at least twice that. Despite the landing being in a remote expanse of Russian taiga - the Sikhote-Alin mountains in Primorye, Siberia - the fall was so big, bright and noisy that it was seen from as far away as 300km. A trail of smoke and vapour, miles long, was left across the sky for hours.

As meteorites go, it's nothing special. A course octahedrite, mostly iron with about 6% nickel, small amounts of cobalt, sulphur and phosphorous, and some traces of rarer things. But as a commercial meteorite, it's been an industry standard for quite some time. As it fell, it burst into a shower of twisted, blackened metal, peppering the forest with a spray of craters. The little, gnarled chunks of space iron fit most people's image of a meteorite far more neatly than, say, a dull, stony chondrite, and have provided an affordable stock line for shops like mine to put on our shelves. The price has been going up for a while as it becomes harder to come by. I'm sure there will be a supply for a while yet, though. Hope so.

Here's a nice short film put out by the Soviet government about the initial expedition to recover the material, take pictures, and get all scientific about it. добро пожаловать!