Science, Tech & Environment

Geo answer

A fireball in the sky is your first clue for today's Geo Quiz.

To get to our destination, first fly due south from Miami (25°47′16″N 80°13′27″W). That puts you on a path that goes over only 2 South American countries... Ecuador and Peru.

We're looking for a town high up in the Andes of Peru. Last September, locals there witnessed something like a fireball falling thru the sky. This geologist went to Peru to investigate:

?It's up in the high plains of Peru, we're talking around 14,000 feet. This area is where there may have been as many as 6 million Incas living at once so we're going back in history, and ironically that's exactly where this thing hit.?

The Fireball: Planetary geologists had thought that stony meteorites would be destroyed when they passed through Earth's atmosphere. This one struck ground in Peru at about 15,000 miles per hour. Brown University geologists have advanced a new theory that would upend current thinking about stony meteorites.
Image: Peter Schultz, Brown UniversityThe Fireball: Planetary geologists had thought that stony meteorites would be destroyed when they passed through Earth's atmosphere. This one struck ground in Peru at about 15,000 miles per hour. Brown University geologists have advanced a new theory that would upend current thinking about stony meteorites.
Image: Peter Schultz, Brown University

So we want you to name the town where this "thing" crashed. It's a town close to Lake Titicaca near the border with Bolivia. Now scientists have a new theory about this fireball.

We'll tell you more...first try and name the town that's now famous for a fiery crash landing.

Something from outer space shows up in our Geo Quiz.

Scientists are still trying to piece together an account of the fiery crash near a town in the Peruvian Andes last September.

That South American town and the answer to our quiz is Carancas, Peru.

The World's David Leveille has the story:

Listen to the report

Just before noon last September 15th -- local farmers in the village of Carancas, Peru were stunned by the unbelievable sight of something falling out of the sky.

"This fireball comes out of the sky, and slams into a dry river bed!"

Peter Schulz is professor of geological sciences at Brown University:

"It throws out dust and dirt, sod, and sand to distances perhaps as far as three football fields. This was kind of like one of those movies where aliens come from outer space but in this case it wasn't a people alien, it was simply a stony alien."

The stony alien was a meteorite, a "chip off the block" of an asteroid says Schulz who's an expert in extra terrestrial impacts. He recently travelled to Carancas for a close up view of the 20 foot deep, gaping hole in the ground.

"What we discovered is that in fact this was an impact crater that was caused by a stony meteorite that slammed into the earth. The only way you could tell that was to go there and kick up the dirt."

The impact smashed the meteorite into smithereens, scorched the ground, and left traces of minerals scattered across the crater 100 feet across. By analyzing those traces, Schultz calibrated the speed it was going. Schultz estimates the meteorite shot thru the atmosphere...travelling as fast as 15,000 miles per hour at the moment of impact. That's fast. More than 60 times the speed of a Formula 1 race car zooming by. It's also 40 or 50 times faster than scientists had previously estimated for stony meteorites. Schultz says the top speed may explain why this meteorite didn't burn up and disintegrate as it came thru the atmosphere.

"We would have expected an object like this stony meteorite to come into the atmosphere, break apart and thenspread sideways into a pancake, and that's how we explain why we find strewn fields of meteorites and pits caused by meteorites. That isn't what happenned. For some reason either because of its size or because it broke up and stayed collected kind of like a flock of geese, it came zooming in to the earth at a very high speed and formed a single crater."

But whether this kind of solid hit is common or a freak occurance is still a mystery. Schultz and his Peruvian colleagues will continue to study the crater and they'll keep searching for other examples. Problem is many impact craters may be hidden under water in the ocean. And besides that predicting when and where meteorites will next strike the earth is an uncertain science:

"It may be that there are many more of these around, we just haven't been looking because we thought we understood how it came through the atmosphere. We will probably have to be on the lookout and with all these camcorders and all the people who are living in all corners of the world, perhaps we'll have another one."

Schultz says stony meteorites like the Carancas meteorite have been, and will be around for a long while. They are rocky leftovers from the formation of the solar system dating back 4 and a half billion years...which makes them quite literally "blasts from the past".

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