Scientists launch meteorite search

July 24, 1998

Copenhagen University scientists are leading a Danish expedition in Greenland to search for fragments of a meteorite that crashed to the ground last December and which could help solve some mysteries of the solar system.

A giant fireball was seen in Greenland in the early hours of December 9. Reports talked of "night having turned into day" by a "giant millipede with yellow glowing legs of fire".

Astronomer Lars Lindberg Christensen, a leading member of the expedition, said that the meteorite was likely to have been the size of a caravan: "The meteorite weighed at least one ton, hitting the earth's atmosphere at a speed of 100,000km per hour. We believe that this was a very big meteorite from outer space. The debris, some of it as tiny as golf balls, can provide us with clues to the birth of the solar system."

Traces of more than 10,000 meteorites have been found on earth. The Greenland one is special because it is one of the few that have actually been seen falling.

Copenhagen's Tycho Brahe Planetarium, named after the 16th-century Danish astronomer, which is participating in the four-man expedition, has over 100 eyewitness reports, three seconds of videotape, reports of sightings from trawlers and data from a US defence satellite of the meteorite's plunge through the atmosphere. Seismometers recorded a 10-second shock, and there are reports of a huge cloud of steam rising from the ice cap after the object landed near Quaquortoq on the southern tip of Greenland.

The expedition will spend four weeks at the impact site. Fragments found by the team are to be sent to Copenhagen University for analysis, with some of the collected material destined to be sent to research institutes in other countries.

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