Mercer’s meteorite has no monetary value, but it’s vital to science: expert
Planetary body scientist Dr. Juliane Gross of Rutgers University answers some questions about the meteorite that recently hit Mercer.
May 26, 2023 2:20 p.m. EDT | Updated May 26, 2023 2:23 PM EDT
MERCER COUNTY, NJ – It’s been just over three weeks since a meteorite fell through the roof of a home in Mercer County. And Patch continued to receive requests from readers interested in this phenomenon.
We reached out to Professor Juliane Gross of Rutgers University to answer a few questions.
Gross is an Associate Professor in the University’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. His research focuses on the study of the formation and evolution of differentiated planetary bodies and his interests include the study of rock types, their chemical and physical state, and the effect of micrometeorite bombardment.
A little background on the meteorite:
On May 8, an object struck a ranch-style house on Old Washington Crossing Pennington Road in Hopewell. The meteorite, which measures approximately 4″ x 6″ and is oblong in shape, hit the roof, ceiling, and then fell to the hardwood floor. Although the house was occupied at the time, no injuries were reported, police said. More: Possible meteorite hits Mercer County home: Police
Experts from the College of New Jersey have confirmed that the age of the chondrite meteorite is around 4.56 billion years old. More: Confirmed: It Was A 4 Billion Year Old Meteorite That Hit Mercer Home
The meteorite was returned to the family, who currently own it. We asked Professor Gross a few questions about the meteorite, including its monetary value. Here are the questions/answers:
What can meteorites tell us about the solar system?
Depending on what type of meteorite it is (primitive, vs differentiated, etc.), meteorites can tell us everything from early solar system processes such as the early formation of the solar system before the formation of planets (that’s i.e. what were the building blocks of the planets), to the formation of the planets, to the interactions of the surface of the planet with the space environment and to the evolution of the planet in space and time.
What is the importance/value of these space objects in science?
They are important in the study of planetary sciences. These rocks are samples that we can analyze in the laboratory to extract information, for example its age (and therefore the age of our solar system, or of the planetary body from which it originated), what was the composition of the primitive solar system , which about billions of years ago, materials likely impacted the Earth. Questions like: where does life come from? where does water come from on earth? how old is the solar system? how old is the earth? what were the constituent parts of the planets, including the Earth? etc The Earth is a gigantic recycling machine and all old geological evidence in the form of rocks has been recycled and turned into new rocks, so we cannot use them to extract information about the history of the early Earth or the solar system primitive. The only way for us to get a glimpse of those times that passed long ago is to study material that comes from that period, like tiny time capsules from the solar system’s past.
The family who found the Hopewell meteorite said it was hot when it hit the roof. What does that mean?
When meteorites fall into the Earth’s atmosphere, they create friction and this friction will cause the rock outside to melt. This is what we call the fusion crust. If you find a meteorite just after it has fallen, it may be hot because rocks are poor conductors of heat. But that also means that only about the first mm or so of the rock is hot (not hot) and that the interior is actually as cold as outer space. It is a very big misconception that meteorites are hot after they fall.
The meteorite that fell at Hopewell has been identified as a chrondrite meteorite. How rare are they and what is the most interesting part of this type of meteorite?
Ordinary chondrites are the most common type of meteorites we find. They make up about 96% of all meteorites. Chondrites are rocks from asteroids in the solar system and can therefore tell us about the formation of planets at an early stage.
The College of NJ physicists said meteorites rarely fall in a populated area. How rare is this phenomenon?
Meteorites are falling all over the planet, randomly. Most land is in the oceans, since our planet is 73% covered in water. If meteorites fall at night, most people are sleeping and therefore will not see it. Most rocks are also too small to stay intact in the atmosphere and burn before they hit the ground (which we then observe as “shooting stars”). But they drop randomly with no preference for or against an area.
A question we often get from readers is – what is the monetary value of this meteorite?
Ordinary chondrite, like this meteorite, has no real commercial (monetary) value. They have scientific value because they are time capsules that we can use to study processes and answer questions that we would not otherwise have access to.
The family that owns it – what options do they have? What can they do with the meteorite?
There are lots of options – they could donate it, or part of it, to a museum or university; they could have it classified, in which case they must give part of it to science; they could keep it and show it.
Do you have a correction or topical advice? Email [email protected]