An "extinct" meteorite has been found in a Swedish limestone quarry that produces floor tiles, scientists reported Tuesday in Nature Communications. It may be the first of its kind — the remnant of an object long-destroyed, fragments of which once rained down on Earth but no longer exist in the heavens.
The 470-million-year-old space rock, dubbed Österplana 65, was found in the midst of over 100 L type chondrites — the most common type of meteorite. Many of these objects are thought to have formed 470 million years ago when their large mother object collided with a bruiser of an asteroid. L chondrites are made up of the rock of that common mama, but the asteroid that broke her apart to such great effect — sending a huge glut of L chondrites down onto Earth in its wake — has remained elusive until now. Österplana 65 is thought to be the first chunk of it ever found.
"For a long time we called the meteorite the 'Mysterious Object' because we could not understand what it was," lead author Birger Schmitz of Lund University told Space.com. The object, he said, is "of a type that we do not know of from today's world" — suggesting that we have a lot to learn about the variety of meteorites that pummeled our planets during important moments in evolutionary history. Space rock collisions could have changed the ecosystem in ways that helped new species flourish.
"Apparently there is potential to reconstruct important aspects of solar-system history by looking down in Earth's sediments, in addition to looking up at the skies," the researchers wrote in the study.
And just think: The fascinating fossil was almost lost to a garbage heap.
"It used to be that they threw away the floor tiles that had ugly black dots in them," Schmitz told the BBC. But he and his co-authors have implored them to keep an eye out for these apparent defects. "The very first fossil meteorite we found was in one of their dumps."