A Farmer’s Meteorite Discovery: Unlocking Cosmic Mysteries from South Africa

Meteorites are rocks from space that fall to Earth in bright meteors. People have been fascinated by them for thousands of years, and they’ve even been a part of myths and religious beliefs. Nowadays, scientists use meteorites to learn about how our solar system was born and the life it supports. Many countries consider meteorites a natural treasure and collect them for museums and private collections.

In South Africa, where I study meteorites, a farmer named Gideon Lombaard contacted us in 2021 because he thought he found two meteorite pieces. If proven true, these would be the first meteorites found in South Africa in over 40 years. After testing the fragments, we confirmed that they came from different meteor events and gave them names based on nearby landmarks.

South Africa now has 51 confirmed meteorites, the most in sub-Saharan Africa. However, this is still much less than the over 14,000 meteorites found in the Sahara desert. To find more meteorites, we need a national program to educate and involve people in the search. A meteorite is a piece of rock from space that survives its journey to Earth. They are usually found when someone notices an unusual rock while walking, or they can be retrieved after people see a meteor in the sky.

Meteorites come in different types, but most of them likely come from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. They are like shrapnel from past asteroid collisions that ended up on Earth’s path. Finding meteorites is tough, and they can deteriorate when exposed to oxygen and water. That’s why they are often found in dry places like Antarctica and the Sahara desert, where they don’t deteriorate as quickly. Mr. Lombaard found the two meteorites during his normal farming activities and contacted experts to confirm his discovery.

South African law protects meteorites as national heritage, and they must be stored properly for future research. Technology, like camera networks, helps track meteorites’ paths, and citizen scientists also help find them.

Before Mr. Lombaard’s discovery, there were 49 known meteorites from South African sites, but now there are more than 50. It’s likely that there are more waiting to be found.

Image Source: https://www.heraldlive.co.za/weekend-post/your-weekend/2023-10-01-unusual-finds-by-south-african-farmer-add-to-space-rock-heritage/

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