A rare rock found in Argentina might be one for the record books.
Holy sputtering space rocks! Earlier this week, a team in Argentina excavated a monster: a 30-ton chunk of what is very probably an iron-nickel meteorite.
Named "Gancedo" after a nearby town, the rock was found in the heart of the known Campo del Cielo ("Field of Heaven" in Spanish) meteorite strewnfield. A team from the local Astronomy Association of Chaco dug the huge rock out of the ground on September 10th, and images of the find soon flooded the internet.
“While we hoped for weights above what had been registered, we did not expect it to exceed 30 tons,” Mario Vesconi (Astronomy Association of Chaco) told the Xinhua news service. “The size and weight [of Gancedo] surprised us.” For comparison, the legal maximum gross vehicle weight for an 18-wheeler in the United States is 40 tons.
The team admits it'll take time to weigh the meteorite more precisely. The find will most likely end up ranking as the second-largest meteorite recovered from Campo del Cielo in the Chaco province of northern Argentina, after the 37-ton "El Chaco" uncovered in 1980.
And the biggest space rock ever recovered? That title still safely belongs to the Hoba meteorite in Namibia, estimated to weigh more than 60 tons. This measurement is difficult to make because Hoba has never been moved from its discovery site. This massive chunk of iron fell to Earth around 80,000 years ago and is now a tourist attraction, still half-buried in the ground.
Gancedo's fall to Earth occurred between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago. Locals knew of the fall for centuries, even making iron tools from meteorites found in the strewnfield. In the 16th century, the Spanish became interested in stories of a piece of iron that fell from the sky, and in 1774 don Bartolomé Francsico de Maguna led an expedition that came across a mass of iron, referred to as Mesón de Fierro ("Table of Iron" in Spanish). Another 1,400-pound fragment from Campo del Cielo named Otumpa now resides at the British Museum in London. With more than 100 tons of meteorite recovered, Campo del Cielo is the top producer in terms of pure meteorite mass worldwide.
The Campo del Cielo strewnfield extends over an ellipse 3 km wide by 19 km long over an area northwest of Buenos Aires, and meteorites found here have a polycrystalline coarse octahedrite composition characteristic of iron-nickel meteorites. They are also unusually pure even among iron-nickel meteorites, consisting of 93% iron. Most of the remaining 7% is nickel, and less than 1% are trace elements.
The illicit meteorite trade surrounding Campo del Cielo has also made the news in the past few years, with arrests just last year by Argentine officials of four smugglers trying to take a ton of meteorites out of the country. Hopefully, Gancedo will prove too large to steal and find its fitting place in meteorite science and history.
See more images of the retrieval of Gancedo on the Ministerio de Gobiero's Facebook page.