In 2015, David Hole conducted prospecting at Maryborough Regional Park near Melbourne, Australia.
Armed with a metal detector, he discovered something extraordinary – a very heavy, reddish rock dormant in some yellow clay.
He took it home and tried everything to open it, certain there was a gold nugget inside the rock – after all, Maryborough is in the Goldfields region, where Australia’s gold rush peaked in the 19th century.
To break up his find, Hole tried using a rock saw, an angle grinder, a drill, and even doused the thing in acid. However, not even a sledgehammer could make a bang. That’s because what he was trying to open wasn’t a gold nugget.
As he found out years later, it was a rare meteorite.
“It had this chiseled, dimple-like appearance,” said Melbourne Museum geologist Dermot Henry The Sydney Morning Herald in 2019.
“That’s what happens when they come through the atmosphere, they melt on the outside and the atmosphere shapes them.”
Unable to open the “rock” but still intrigued, Hole took the nugget to the Melbourne Museum for identification.
“I’ve looked at a lot of stones that people think are meteorites,” Henry told Channel 10 News.
In fact, after 37 years of working at the museum and examining thousands of rocks, Henry said only two of the offerings ever turned out to be real meteorites.
This was one of the two.
“If you’ve seen a rock like that on Earth and picked it up, it shouldn’t be that heavy,” explained Melbourne Museum geologist Bill Birch The Sydney Morning Herald.
The researchers published a scientific paper describing the 4.6-billion-year-old meteorite, which they named Maryborough after the city near where they were found.
It weighs a whopping 17 kilograms (37.5 pounds), and after slicing off a small slice with a diamond saw, the researchers discovered that its composition was high in iron, making it a common H5 chondrite.
Once opened, you can also see the tiny crystallized droplets of metallic minerals inside called chondrules.
“Meteorites offer the cheapest form of space exploration. They take us back in time and provide clues to the age, formation and chemistry of our solar system (including Earth),” Henry said.
“Some provide a glimpse into the deep interior of our planet. In some meteorites there is ‘stardust’ even older than our solar system, showing us how stars form and evolve to create elements of the periodic table.
“Other rare meteorites contain organic molecules like amino acids, the building blocks of life.”
Although researchers don’t yet know where the meteorite came from and how long it might have been on Earth, they have some guesses.
Our solar system was once a spinning heap of dust and chondrite rock. Eventually, gravity pulled much of this material together into planets, but most of the remnants ended up in a giant asteroid belt.
“This particular meteorite is most likely coming from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and it was ejected from there by some asteroids that crashed into each other and then one day it hit Earth,” Henry told Channel 10 News.
Carbon dating suggests the meteorite was on Earth between 100 and 1,000 years, and there have been a number of meteorite sightings between 1889 and 1951 that may correspond to its arrival on our planet.
The researchers argue that the Maryborough meteorite is much rarer than gold, making it much more valuable to science. It is one of only 17 meteorites ever recorded in the Australian state of Victoria and is the second-largest chondritic mass after a giant 55-kilogram specimen identified in 2003.
“This is only the 17th meteorite found in Victoria while thousands of gold nuggets have been found,” Henry told Channel 10 News.
“If you look at the chain of events, it’s quite, you might say, astronomical that it’ll be detected at all.”
It’s not even the first meteorite to take a few years to make it into a museum. In one particularly amazing story, reported by ScienceAlert in 2018, it took a space rock 80 years, two owners, and a stint as a doorstop before it was finally revealed for what it really was.
Now is probably a good time to scour your yard for any particularly heavy and difficult-to-break rocks – you may be sitting on a metaphorical gold mine.
The study was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria.
A version of this article was originally published in July 2019.
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