Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Iron Impact

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Iron Impact

Article excerpt

A 4.5 billion year-old and 138-pound meteorite has landed and will be on display at the South Florida Museum

BRADENTON -- Some 4,500 years ago, a 100-ton meteor came screaming in from the Asteroid Belt and tumbled toward the northern region of what is now Argentina.

It likely exploded upon slamming into the atmosphere, and the disintegrating fireball blistered a 36-square-mile tract of prehistoric plains with a dozen craters.

The first reports of its aftermath were not logged until 1576, when skeptical Spanish conquistadors investigated apocalyptic native folklore about fire raining from the sky. The trail led to a treasure trove of scattered and often massive meteorite fragments weighing up to 16 tons. The impact zone is called Campo del Cielo, and it has become a windfall for scientific research.

On Friday, one of those cosmic remnants will go on permanent display at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, and the public is invited to take a look.

Measuring 18 inches long and 10 inches tall and weighing in at 138 pounds, the extraterrestrial rock is nicknamed FeNi for its composition, mostly iron with traces of nickel. The arrival of FeNi has museum staffers jazzed.

"I like putting my hand on something that came from outer space during the earliest part of the solar system, which is made of the same material at the core of the Earth," says astronomer Jeff Rodgers, director of the museum's Bishop Planetarium.

"I can't go to the stars. I can't go to the planets. But I can touch something that's 4.5 billion years old. I think it's safe to say this is the oldest thing any of us will ever come in contact with."

To generate interest, the first 500 children who visit the museum on Friday evening will receive free meteorite particles. Unlike FeNi, glazed to a fine sheen with mineral oil to prevent oxidation, the take-home samples could be mistaken for common rust fragments. These fragments, however, trace their ancient origins to a failed planetoid system between Mars and Jupiter known as the Asteroid Belt.

"Who knows what that might inspire?" says Rodgers. "Nobody ever sent me home with chunks of meteorites when I was a kid."

FeNi, and its sister piece -- a similar-sized meteorite being held for now in museum storage -- is a gift from board member Jim Toomey, a Bradenton paleontologist who runs the nonprofit Toomey Foundation for Natural Sciences. …

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