Campo Del Cielo Meteorite Field

Aug 23, 2016 0 comments

About 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, a huge chunk of space rock fell in Argentina, but it didn’t fell in one piece. It broke up as it entered the earth’s atmosphere creating a meteorite shower with pieces ranging from a few grams to several tons. Most of the larger fragments fell over a narrow belt of land several square kilometers of area now known as the Campo del Cielo meteorite field. The site is located on the border between the provinces of Chaco and Santiago del Estero, 1,000 kilometers northwest of Buenos Aires.

The impact left at least twenty-six craters inside Campo del Cielo —an area about 3 km wide and some 18.5 km long. The largest measures about 115 meters across. Some meteorite fragments punched deep holes into the earth, as in the case of a 14-ton meteorite that created a tunnel 25 meters long and 8 meters deep. These rocks are estimated to have struck the surface at 14,400 kilometers an hour.


Photo credit: Valmice Vieira/Panoramio

Before entering the atmosphere the asteroid probably weighed 600 tons. Half that mass likely burned up on entry, and the remaining 300 tons impacted the earth on multiple sites. Nearly 100 tons of meteorite has been recovered from Campo del Cielo till now, with the largest piece, called El Chaco, weighs 37 tons. It is the second heaviest single-piece meteorite recovered on Earth, after the Hoba meteorite.

Much of the meteorite’s mass remain buried and dispersed in small fragments across a vast area outside of Campo del Cielo. There are thousands of tiny pieces of meteorites all over the region. It’s illegal to remove them, but thefts continue to occur all the same. You can buy pieces of Campo Del Cielo meteorites from various sellers on the internet for as cheap as $10. Some even tried to steal El Chaco in 1990, but the plan was foiled.

Campo Del Cielo was first discovered in 1576 by members of a Spanish exploration team, but the site was already well known among the natives, who claimed —with surprising accuracy— that the rocks had fallen from the sky. They called the place Piguem Nonralta which the Spanish translated as Campo del Cielo ("Field of Heaven"). The Spanish thought they had found an iron mine. They brought samples and made a report, but it was quickly forgotten, until 1774 when samples of the iron and documents describing the discovery were re-discovered. A series of expedition followed. The exploratory teams did not believe the stone had fallen from the sky, and assumed that it had formed by a volcanic eruption. It was only when samples were sent for analysis to the Royal Society of London, that the iron’s true origin was known.

Today the site is better protected than it was a few decades ago. The only area open to visitors is the Provincial Park of the Meteorites, which hold El Chaco and a few other objects.



El Chaco. Photo credit: Valmice Vieira/Panoramio


Photo credit: Valmice Vieira/Panoramio


Photo credit: Valmice Vieira/Panoramio


Photo credit: Mario Prada/Panoramio


Part of Campo Del Cielo meteorite. Photo credit: quattroman76/Flickr

Sources: Wikipedia / Scientific American


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