Ancient Egyptian jewellery carved from a meteorite

Gerzeh-bead

Think iron jewellery is down-to-earth? Not for the ancient Egyptians, it wasn’t. A 5300-year-old necklace bead found in an Egyptian tomb was made with iron from a meteorite.

Evidence for iron smelting in Egypt dates back to the 6th century BC, but archaeologists have found much older iron artefacts in the region, including in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Such artefacts are “pretty much exclusive to high-status tombs”, says Diane Johnson of the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK. Previous analyses of the oldest of these – nine iron beads from a cemetery near the Nile – proved inconclusive on their origins.

Now Johnson and colleagues have taken another look at one of the beads (pictured) and concluded that it is indeed from a meteorite. The surface of the bead had low levels of nickel, but the levels inside were as high as they would be in a meteorite.

But the clincher was evidence of a distinctive crystal structure – known as the Widmanstätten pattern – that only forms when iron and nickel cools very slowly, as it does in meteoroids (Meteoritics & Planetary Science, doi.org/mmb).

It is “very convincing” that the beads come from a meteorite, says Meenakshi Wadhwa of the Center for Meteorite Studies at Arizona State University in Tempe.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21829195.500-ancient-egyptian-jewellery-carved-from-a-meteorite.html?cmpid=RSS|NSNS|2012-GLOBAL|online-news

Astrobiologists Find Ancient Fossils in Fireball Fragments

Polonnaruwa%20meteorite

On 29 December 2012, a fireball lit up the early evening skies over the Sri Lankan province of Polonnaruwa. Hot, sparkling fragments of the fireball rained down across the countryside and witnesses reported the strong odour of tar or asphalt.

Over the next few days, the local police gathered numerous examples of these stones and sent them to the Sri Lankan Medical Research Institute of the Ministry of Health in Colombo. After noticing curious features inside these stones, officials forwarded the samples to a team of astrobiologists at Cardiff University in the UK for further analysis.

The results of these tests, which the Cardiff team reveal today, are extraordinary. They say the stones contain fossilised biological structures fused into the rock matrix and that their tests clearly rule out the possibility of terrestrial contamination.

In total, Jamie Wallis at Cardiff University and a few buddies received 628 stone fragments collected from rice fields in the region. However, they were able to clearly identify only three as possible meteorites.

The general properties of these three stones immediately mark them out as unusual. One stone, for example, had a density of less than 1 gram per cubic centimetre, less than all known carbonaceous meteorites. It had a partially fused crust, good evidence of atmospheric heating, a carbon content of up to 4 per cent and contained an abundance of organic compounds with a high molecular weight, which is not unknown in meteorites. On this evidence, Wallis and co think the fireball was probably a small comet.

The most startling claims, however, are based on electron microscope images of structures within the stones (see above). Wallis and co say that one image shows a complex, thick-walled, carbon-rich microfossil about 100 micrometres across that bares similarities with a group of largely extinct marine dinoflagellate algae.

They say another image shows well-preserved flagella that are 2 micrometres in diameter and 100 micrometres long. By terrestrial standards, that’s extremely long and thin, which Wallis and co interpret as evidence of formation in a low-gravity, low-pressure environment.

Wallis and co also measured the abundance of various elements in the samples to determine their origin. They say that low levels of nitrogen in particular rule out the possibility of contamination by modern organisms which would have a much higher nitrogen content. The fact that these samples are also buried within the rock matrix is further evidence, they say.

Wallis and co are convinced that the lines of evidence they have gathered are powerful and persuasive. “This provides clear and convincing evidence that these obviously ancient remains of extinct marine algae found embedded in the Polonnaruwa meteorite are indigenous to the stones and not the result of post-arrival microbial contaminants,” they conclude.

There’s no question that a claim of this kind is likely to generate controversy. Critics have already pointed out that the stones could have been formed by lightning strikes on Earth although Wallis and co counter by saying there was no evidence of lightning at the time of the fireball and that in any case, the stones do not bear the usual characteristics of this kind of strike. What’s more, the temperatures generated by lightning would have destroyed any biological content.

Nevertheless, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and Wallis and co will need to make their samples and evidence available to the scientific community for further study before the claims will be taken seriously.

If the paper is taken at face value, one obvious question that arises is where these samples came from. Wallis and co have their own ideas: “The presence of fossilized biological structures provides compelling evidence in support of the theory of cometary panspermia first proposed over thirty years ago,” they say.

This is an idea put forward by Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, the latter being a member of the team who has carried out this analysis.

There are other explanations, of course. One is that the fireball was of terrestrial origin, a remnant of one of the many asteroid impacts in Earth’s history that that have ejected billions of tonnes of rock and water into space, presumably with biological material inside. Another is that the structures are not biological and have a different explanation.

Either way, considerably more work will have to be done before the claims from this team can be broadly accepted. Exciting times ahead!

http://www.technologyreview.com/view/512381/astrobiologists-find-ancient-fossils-in-fireball-fragments/

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Meteorite crashes in Russia today

The Ural Mountains were shaken by some pretty dramatic explosions on Friday, as a meteorite burst in midair and showered Russia with the remnants.

The Chelyabinsk region of Russia, in the Ural Mountains about 930 miles east of Moscow, was pelted by at least one meteorite on Friday, freaking out residents with bright streaks across the sky and loud, window-shaking explosions. No serious injuries have been reported from the blasts, and Russian authorities are providing slightly different explanations for what happened. The growing consensus is that a meteorite exploded about 32,000 feet in the air, scattering smaller chunks around the region. “Verified information indicates that this was one meteorite which burned up as it approached Earth and disintegrated into smaller pieces,” Russian Emergency Ministries official Elena Smirnykh tells Russia’s RIA Novosti.

Tennessee couple discovers that they’ve been using a 4 billion year-old, extremely valuable meteorite as their doorstop

The rock is nothing much to look at: 33 pounds and oval shaped. If you didn’t know its history, you probably wouldn’t be surprised that Donna Lewis’s family used it as a doorstop, later parking it in the front garden.

It was even painted green for a time.

As it turned out, this was no ordinary rock. On Thursday, Donna and her husband George formally announced that the family rock picked out of a cow pasture in the 1930 is in fact a meteorite, Fox News reported.

Researchers from the University of Tennessee believe the ancient and very valuable rock came from a known meteorite strike that first turned up evidence in Tazewell, Tenn. in 1853.

According to Arizona State University’s Center for Meteorite Studies, a meteorite is a solid body from outer space that has fallen to the Earth’s surface. The Lewis meteorite is classified as a “find” by the center, since it was not observed falling to earth but rather was recognized after the fact by its distinct features.

George Lewis first started to suspect his rock might be special after running a metal detector over it in May. To his surprise, the detector’s dial registered “overload,” reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

After confirming the rock’s other worldly pedigree, Eastern Kentucky University purchased it, for eventual display in the school’s new Science’s building.

EKU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy Chairman, Jerry Cook, says the meteorite will be at the Kentucky Academy of Science annual conference on campus Friday and Saturday, the Associated Press reported.

“We’re extremely lucky to find something like this,” Cook said, according to an EKU press release, ” and to find one locally is a real plus for us.” The rock is estimated to be more than 4 and a half billion years old.

In addition to being extremely rare, meteorites of this size are also valuable. In an October auction, cosmic rocks for sale had price tags ranging from the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the Associated Press.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/21/meteorite-used-as-tennessee-doorstop-discovered-by-accident-sold_n_1992818.html