Researchers Have Taught a Drone to Recognize and Hunt Down Meteorites Autonomously

Planetary scientists estimate that each year, about 500 meteorites survive the fiery trip through Earth’s atmosphere and fall to our planet’s surface. Most are quite small, and less than 2% of them are ever recovered. While the majority of rocks from space may not be recoverable due to ending up in oceans or remote, inaccessible areas, other meteorite falls are just not witnessed or known about.

But new technology has upped the number known falls in recent years. Doppler radar has detected meteorite falls, as well as all-sky camera networks specifically on the lookout for meteors. Additionally, increased use of dashcams and security cameras have allowed for more serendipitous sightings and data on fireballs and potential meteorite falls.

A team of researchers is now taking advantage of additional technology advances by testing out drones and machine learning for automated searches for small meteorites.  The drones are programmed to fly a grid search pattern in a projected ‘strewn field’ for a recent meteorite fall, taking systematic pictures of the ground over a large survey area. Artificial intelligence is then used to search through the pictures to identify potential meteorites.  

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Meteorites Hold Early Atmospheres From Across the Solar System

Since they were formed in the early solar system, many meteorites offer an unadulterated view into what that solar system was made out of, or what happened to it as we reported before.  Recently a team of researchers led by Maggie Thompson at University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) took a look at the chemical composition of three different chondritic meteorites, which have largely been untouched since before the planets were formed.  Their composition was different than current models predicted, and could lead to a better understanding of early planetary atmospheres.

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The Surprising Discovery of Ceramic Chips Inside Meteorites Means There Were Wild Temperature Variations In the Early Solar System

Meteorites are excellent windows into early solar system formation.  Many were formed in the those early days, and unlike rocks on the Earth, most are not affected by billions of years of tectonic activity that wipes away any of their original structure.  Recently a team led by Nicolas Dauphas and Justin Hu at the University of Chicago (UC) found that the formation process for many of these meteorites was much more violent than previously thought.

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What Did The Solar System Look Like Before All The Planets Migrated?

Early planetary migration in the solar system has been long established, and there are myriad theories that have been put forward to explain where the planets were coming from. Theories such as the Grand Tack Hypothesis an the Nice Model show how important that migration is to the current state of our solar system.  Now, a team from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has come up with a novel way of trying to understand planetary migration patterns: by looking at meteorite compositions.

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One of the Building Blocks of Life Can Form in the Harsh Environment of Deep Space Itself. No Star Required

In many ways, stars are the engines of creation. Their energy drives a whole host of processes necessary for life. Scientists thought that stellar radiation is needed to create compounds like the amino acid glycine, one of the building blocks of life.

But a new study has found that glycine detected in comets formed in deep interstellar space when there was no stellar energy.

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Ancient Meteorites Can be Found Embedded in Rocks, Like Fossils

Comets visit the inner Solar System, and leave without saying goodbye. Maybe they leave a trail of dust behind, and when the Earth passes through it, we get a pretty light show in the night sky, in the form of a meteor shower. Likewise, asteroids frequently go whizzing by, though they don’t leave us with a pyrotechnic display.

Sometimes these rocky interlopers head straight for Earth. And when they do, the results can be cataclysmic, like when an asteroid struck Earth about 66 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs and 75% of life on Earth. Other times, it’s not quite as cataclysmic, but still devastating, like in about 2350 BC, when debris from a disintegrating comet may have caused the collapse of an ancient empire.

But regardless of the severity of any of these individual events, the conclusion is crystal clear: Earth’s history is intertwined with the coming and going of space rocks. The evidence is all around us, sort of.

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Terrible Luck. The Only Person Ever Killed by a Meteorite – Back in 1888

What are your chances of getting smacked – and killed — by a meteorite? One astronomer put the odds of death by space rock at 1 in 700,000 in a lifetime, while others say it’s more like 1 in 1,600,000.

Computing the probability for such an untimely death is difficult because this type of event is so rare. In fact, even though thousands of meteorites are thought to hit the ground each year, in looking through the annals of meteorite history, there seemed to be no evidence that anyone had ever been killed by a meteorite.  Until now.

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Mars Was Hit By a Lot of Protoplanets Early in its History, Taking Longer to Form than Previously Thought.

There are around 61,000 meteorites on Earth, or at least that’s how many have been found. Out of those, about 200 of them are very special: they came from Mars. And those 200 meteorites have been important clues to how Mars formed in the early Solar System.

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We Know We’re Made of Stardust. But Did it Come From Red Giants?

We’ve all heard this one: when you drink a glass of water, that water has already been through a bunch of other people’s digestive tracts. Maybe Attila the Hun’s or Vlad the Impaler’s; maybe even a Tyrannosaurus Rex’s.

Well, the same thing is true of stars and matter. All the matter we see around us here on Earth, even our own bodies, has gone through at least one cycle of stellar birth and death, maybe more. But which type of star?

That’s what a team of researchers at ETH Zurich (Ecole polytechnique federale de Zurich) wanted to know.

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A Microorganism With a Taste for Meteorites Could Help us Understand the Formation of Life on Earth

From the study of meteorite fragments that have fallen to Earth, scientists have confirmed that bacteria can not only survive the harsh conditions of space but can transport biological material between planets. Because of how common meteorite impacts were when life emerged on Earth (ca. 4 billion years ago), scientists have been pondering whether they may have delivered the necessary ingredients for life to thrive.

In a recent study, an international team led by astrobiologist Tetyana Milojevic from the University of Vienna examined a specific type of ancient bacteria that are known to thrive on extraterrestrial meteorites. By examining a meteorite that contained traces of this bacteria, the team determined that these bacteria prefer to feed on meteors – a find which could provide insight into how life emerged on Earth.

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