Fragments of the Sutter's Mill meteorite, which scientists believe broke records for the fastest meteor to enter Earth's atmosphere in April. (Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
The meteorite that lit up the skies in California and Nevada last spring apparently left an impression in more ways than one.
In examinations of the meteorite that were recently released, the Sutter's Mill meteorite that was found in parts of California apparently broke records among the fastest objects ever to enter the Earth's atmosphere.
Peter Jenniskens, a meteor astronomer from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, led a team of volunteers to collect the meteorite when it fractured on April 22.
According to the paper written by Jenneskens, which will be published Friday in the journal "Science" the meteor is composed of a rare type of meteor rock known as carbonaceous chondrite, believed to hold information about the early stages of the solar system.
As Space.com reports, the meteor's entry speed was timed at 7.8 miles, or 8.6 kilometers, a second, which is faster than any meteorite fall ever recorded. The meteor also hit a peak brightness about 35 miles above the ground, breaking apart at an altitude of 30 miles.
Scientists say the space rock formed about 4.5 billion years ago, and likely fragmented away from an asteroid of a Jupiter-family comet some 50,000 years ago. From there, the meteorite likely traveled from Jupiter toward the sun while passing by Mercury and Venus before heading toward Earth.
When it landed in April, the meteor released the energy equivalent of four kilotons of TNT in the process, or about one-quarter the yield of the nuclear weapon detonated over Hiroshima, according to science blog Scientific American.
Witnesses who heard the space rock crash say it sounded like a loud booming noise.
"I was out on my hillside burning some branches and so forth, and I heard this sonic boom," Gold Country resident Ed Allen told National Public Radio. "It wasn't just one boom. It was a series of booms, literally right over my head."
Perhaps what is most exciting to scientists who examined the meteor is what makes it up.
According to the study, the meteor displays "considerable diversity" of mineralogy, petrography, and isotope and organic chemistry, resulting from a complex formation history of the parent body surface. That diversity, the study says, is quickly masked by alteration once in the terrestrial environment but will need to be considered when samples returned by missions to C-class asteroids are interpreted.
"This thing is diverse, even on a small scale," Jenniskens told Space.com.