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Updated: October 17, 2009 20:27 IST

4.6 bn year old meteorite hits Canadian town

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This is an enlarged image of a particle from a meteorite showing carbonate globules in orange. File Photo: AP
This is an enlarged image of a particle from a meteorite showing carbonate globules in orange. File Photo: AP

What was believed to be an act of vandalism in a small Canadian town has actually turned out to be an act of a 4.6 billion-year-old meteorite.

The rocks from this meteorite smashed the window-shield of a truck in Grimsby near Niagara Falls on the night of Sep 25.

Thinking that it was an act of vandalism committed with some ‘unusual rocks’, the truck owners -- Tony Garchinski and his mother Yvonne Garchinski -- reported the matter to police.

But these ‘unusual rocks’ turned to be visitors from space, astronomers at the University of Western Ontario said Friday.

They said when the truck window-shield was being smashed Sept. 25, they were capturing footage of a “fireball” 100 times brighter than a moon streaking across the sky.

To collect its pieces, they said, the university asked people around the town to recover any pieces.

When Tony and his mother read reports that researchers were seeking possible fragments of the meteorite, they phoned the university.

When university researcher Phil McCausland came and inspected the rock piece, they were shocked when he told them that it was 4.6 billion years old and came from the meteorite that they had captured on video two weeks ago.

“It was pretty shocking...knowing that we have a piece of outer space,” said Tony Garchinski.

Peter Brown, university associate professor who is an expert in the study of meteors and meteorite falls, and Phil McCausland showed the meteorite to the media in the presence of the Garchinski family Friday.

“Having both the video and the sample is golden because we get the dynamic information and the orbital direction from the video, and by having recovered material on the ground, we can complete the picture,” said McCausland.

“We can take a rock that we now have in hand and we can study it in the best laboratories in the world and we can put it back into its solar system context. We can put it back into where it came from,” he said.

“In all of history, only about a dozen meteorite falls have that kind of record.”

Brown added: “Scientifically, it’s equivalent to a sample return mission, which is sending a spacecraft out to a known location in the solar system and bringing back a sample. In this case though, the sample comes to us. We don’t have to spend huge sums of money to send a spacecraft to get the sample.”

He said, “We have worked out the orbit, where it came from, so it becomes a material within context. It’s like a geologist who can pick up a rock which may be interesting, but if you know where it came from, that context, it means so much more. Most meteorites -- we don’t have the context. This one we do.”

The Garchinski family has loaned the meteorite sample to the university, but it will remain their property.

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