Chondrite Meteorites from Space

Chondrite Meteorites
Chondrite Meteorite on Display in Chile

What are the odds of you getting hit by a rock that came to the Earth from Mars? A New Jersey woman named Suzy Kop walked into an empty bedroom in her house and found a hole in her ceiling and a still-warm six-inch potato-shaped rock on the floor. Scientists studying it have concluded it is one of the rare stony chondrite meteorites, dating back to the beginning of the solar system.

The word “chondrite” comes from the Greek “chondres,” meaning sand grain. Such rocks from space contain tiny, millimeter-sized granules, iron and nickel alloys, and as much as 50% silicate minerals. There are several different kinds of meteorites. Some are called “irons” because they are almost entirely made of iron and nickel alloys. Others, called “stoney irons,” have silicate minerals in addition to iron and nickel alloys. In addition, carbonaceous chondrite meteorites contain water, sulfur, and even some organic material.

In their excavations of ancient cities, archaeologists have found knives and various other objects made of meteoric iron material. Ling before humans learned how to smelt iron to make tools and weapons, they found iron meteorites and pounded them into useful tools. (See “Metal From the Heavens” in National Geographic for June 2023, pages 102-104.) Genesis 4:22 refers to Tubal-Cain, a son of Lamech, “who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron.” However, early humans used iron meteorites long before Tubal-Cain forged tools.

The question of why there are different kinds of meteorites is of greater interest. The answer is that the meteorites came from the formation of different objects in various places in the cosmos. Scientists believe iron meteorites came from the cores of asteroids or planets where extreme heat would allow only resistant metals to exist. Silicate minerals were probably ejected from planets with less heat and lower pressure. Some stoney chondrite meteorites have the same chemical composition as Mars, so they probably came from that planet.

In 2018 the Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft brought back samples from the asteroid Ryugu. The samples contained uracil, which is a building block of RNA. Some astronomers believe a planet exploded and that many meteorites, as well as Ryugu are what remain from that explosion.

Researchers are sampling other asteroids, but the message is that space is full of the remains of God’s creative actions. Likewise, the existence of planet Earth and the life on it tells us that this is indeed a unique place that we need to care for and preserve.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

References: Nature Communications for March 21, 2023, and The Week for May 26, 2023, page 12.