Meteorite fragments spark interest among local researchers

By: Christian von Preysing

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A meteorite that roared over the Rio Grande Valley and landed in rural Starr County last week is now fascinating researchers here and around the world.

The last time a Rio Grande Valley meteorite caught the attention of the public was in 1956 when the La Villa Meteorite was discovered by a farmer plowing his field.

The 43-pound meteorite fragment has since been sliced in half for research purposes.

“This piece is big enough to have produced a pretty impressive fireball if it entered the atmosphere at night,” University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley geology professor Juan Gonzalez said. 

Gonzalez said that, based on the amount of rust on the iron on the outside of the fragment, it may have been on the ground for thousands of years.

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The new Valley meteorite that roared over the upper Valley last week landed in the area of El Sauz in Starr County.

So far, fragments of it have been located by a meteorite hunter and a NASA scientist.

Gonzalez and his colleague, Eloi Camprubi, said they want to know more about it by looking at what it's made of.

"What we have to then is analyze the chemical properties of the rock, and basically the most important thing is to date them," Camprubi, a UTRGV professor of biology and chemistry said. 

"We need to cut the piece and expose a fresh surface," Gonzalez added.

"And then by doing that, we can look at the internal structure of the rock," Camprubi said.

Both professors said most meteorites have chondrules, a signature as old as the beginning of the universe.

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“If we date these chondrules, and they are as old as the solar system, then we know that is a meteorite because there's no rock on earth that is that old,” Camprubi said.

Camprubi, an astrobiologist and professor of biology and chemistry at the UTRGV, said they suspect alien life traveling on meteorites is possible, but they’re not referring to little green men.

They’re referring to the tiny building blocks that life is made of.

“There's plenty of researchers that believe that materials delivered to Earth by meteorites would have contributed to how life started on Earth — how life emerged,” Camprubi said. "And that is because a lot of meteorites contain a lot of organic materials — amino acids, parts of what makes DNA…, sugars, etc."

Those wanting to check out the 1956 meteorite can do so at the H-E-B Planetarium at the UTRGV science building, where the meteorite is on display. 


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