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Rare ‘Extraterrestrial Mud Ball’ Falls To Earth For The First Time In 50 Years

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In the photo are 50 grams of Aguas Zarcas meteorite donated to ASU's Center for Meteorite Studies by private collector Michael Farmer. These rare meteorites are known as carbonaceous chondrite.   ( ASU | Center for Meteorite Studies )

Meteors commonly make their way to the Earth's surface, but the one that flew over the small town of Aguas Zarcas in Costa Rica is particularly special.

Apparently, this "extraterrestrial mud ball" that rained down on the town last April 23 was so rare that none of it has been seen in about half a century.

Mud From The Cosmos

Early reports on the Aguas Zarcas meteorites revealed that it belongs to a rare group known as "carbonaceous chondrites," which are space rocks that are rich in water and organic compounds, according to a news release from Arizona State University.

"Many carbonaceous chondrites are mud balls that are between 80 and 95 percent clay," explained Laurence Garvie of ASU's Center for Meteorite Studies. "Clays are important because water is an integral part of their structure."

As soon as the researchers found out about the nature of these space rocks, they raced to collect more samples before rainfall comes. Since these meteors are mostly clay, they tend to fall apart when they get wet, Garvie said.

So far, the team has been able to collect roughly 55 pounds of meteorites. Plenty of the meteorites in ASU's possession were donated by private collector Michael Farmer, who visited Aguas Zarcas immediately after the meteor fall to purchase samples from the locals.

The samples are currently being kept in nitrogen cabinets that would preserve the rocks and prevent degradation.

"If you left this carbonaceous chondrite in the air, it would lose some of its extraterrestrial affinities," Garvie said. "These meteorites have to be curated in a way that they can be used for current and future research, and we have that ability here at ASU."

Carbonaceous Chondrites

Since this rare type of meteor is rich in water, carbonaceous chondrites could allow scientists to come up with potential ways to extract water from objects in space. With space exploration becoming an increasingly major part of human development, finding resources in space is essential.

Additionally, carbonaceous chondrites are excellent sources of clues about the origins of the solar system. While they're rare, scientists say these types of rocks offer invaluable information about the formation of planets in the early solar system as well as the events in the planets' interiors after formation.

ASU reveals that the Aguas Zarcas meteor comes from a planetesimal with water and organic materials. For billions of years, it was preserved in space before finding its way to Costa Rica.

The last significant carbonaceous chondrite meteorite that fell to Earth was near Murchison, Australia, in 1969.

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