The swallows are coming back to Capistrano. A celebration kicks off next week at the mission in San Juan Capistrano, where the little birds have migrated for decades.
Another visitor from above descended on the California town 40 years ago today: a meteorite - a rock from beyond Earth. It crashed into the aluminum roof of a carport and split apart. The owners found the biggest piece the next morning on the floor of the carport. They found a much smaller piece about a month later while cleaning the gutter.
The pieces didn’t add up to much - only about two ounces in all. But the meteorite represents a treasure to scientists, because it helps them understand more about the early solar system.
The San Juan Capistrano meteorite is classified as a chondrite. That means it contains small bits of rock that melted then resolidified long ago. Chondrites probably formed at the same time as Earth and the other planets of the solar system. As a result, they may reflect the composition of the original cloud of dust from which the planets formed - four and a half billion years ago.
This meteorite is especially valuable because it was picked up within hours of landing, so scientists know it hadn’t been changed by exposure to Earth’s atmosphere. It should preserve a good sampling of the materials present at the birth of the planets - an important scientific gift that descended on a California town.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.