2000 Yukon Nuggets
Fragments of a meteor, that stunned viewers when it exploded in a giant fireball over the Yukon in January of 2000, could help explain the formation of solar system and life on Earth.
A tall order for the Tagish meteorite. It's the space rock that streaked across the early morning Yukon sky producing sonic booms, sizzling sounds, green flashes, a foul odor and a huge explosion.
As many as seventy people were watching as the meteor started its historic descent. The rock, about the size of a small truck before entering the atmosphere, triggered Defense satellites into recording its fiery explosion and landing on the Taku Arm of Tagish Lake.
Captured on film an hour before sunrise, the space rock exploded with the force of nearly one quarter the blast power of the Hiroshima atom bomb. That's pretty powerful stuff for the brightest fireball in years.
The black, porous rock fragments look like used charcoal briquettes, but they are actually examples of carbonaceous chondrite, a rare meteorite type that holds the basic ingredients from which life arose.
The Tagish meteor is in rare company. Only about two percent of meteorites that reach the Earth are carbonaceous chondrites. And to find one in good condition is special since they deteriorate when they enter the atmosphere or during weathering on the ground.
Fortunately for the scientific community, one week after the event, on January 25th, Jim Brook found the first meteorite fragments while driving home on the frozen surface of the Taku Arm.
Just as darkness was setting in, he spotted some small, black rocks several hundred meters from the shore.
He covered his fingers, picked up the pieces and put them in plastic bags. In a few hours of searching, Brook found seventeen meteorites weighing almost one kilogram. Five were the size of small oranges, and twelve the size of walnuts.
What Brook had found was a relic from the early solar system.
Research teams analyzing the Tagish specimen say it came from a D-type asteroid, possibly a piece of asteroid 368 Haidae, that roams the cold, outer region of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Space geologists believe the pristine pieces of the space rock make it the most important meteorite found in more than thirty years. In fact, a NASA spokesman said that no one had ever recovered a meteor and kept it so pure. It may never happen again.
The meteor was old...very old...four and a half billion years in fact. The fragments offer a glimpse into the original composition of the solar system before the planets formed.
As they studied pieces, NASA scientists say the find was so significant for them, it was the next best thing to sending a collection mission to an asteroid.
A major scientific research mission in the spring of 2000, recovered two hundred additional specimens weighing between five and ten kilograms.
In the years since its explosive landing on the scientific scene, the Tagish Lake meteor has become world famous as the most pristine, the largest tracked by satellites, the most fragile, and one of the oldest.
Because it is so primitive, scientists studying the space visitor say it's a little like being given a picture of the solar system as a baby, and being able to understand what it was like when it was young!
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.