In 2015, David Hole was exploring Maryborough Regional Park near Melbourne, Australia.
Armed with a metal detector, he discovered something amazing – a very heavy, red stone embedded in yellow clay.
He took it home and tried everything to open it, and was sure that there was gold inside the rock – after all, Maryborough is in the Goldfields area, where the gold rush in Australia arrived in the 19th century.
To open up what he found, Hole tried a rock saw, an angle grinder, a drill, and even dousing the object in acid. However, there is not even a small hammer included. That’s because what he was trying to open didn’t have gold.
As he found out years later, it was a rare meteorite.
“It was pretty cool and pretty,” Melbourne Museum geologist Dermot Henry said. The Sydney Morning Herald in 2019.
“These are formed when they pass through the atmosphere, they melt outside, and the atmosphere captures them.”
Unable to open the ‘rock’, but still intrigued, Hole took the nugget to the Melbourne Museum to identify it.
“I’ve looked at a lot of rocks that people think are meteorites,” Henry told Channel 10 News.
In fact, after 37 years of working at the museum and researching dozens of rocks, Henry said that only two of the donations turned out to be real meteorites.
This was one of the two.
“When you see a rock on Earth like this, and you pick it up, it doesn’t have to be very heavy,” Melbourne Museum geologist Bill Birch explained. The Sydney Morning Herald.
The researchers published a scientific paper describing the 4.6 billion-year-old meteorite, which they named Maryborough after the town where it was found.
It weighs 17 kilograms (37.5 pounds), and after using a diamond saw to cut a small piece, the researchers found that the structure contained a large amount of iron, making H5 a typical chondrite.
When you open it up, you can also see the small pieces made of minerals, called chondrules.
“Meteorites provide a very inexpensive way to study space. They take us back in time, providing information on the age, composition, and chemistry of our Sun (including Earth),” said Henry.
“Some provide a deep insight into our planet. In some meteorites, there is ‘stardust’ older than our Solar System, which shows us how stars form and evolve to form the elements of the periodic table.
“Some rare meteorites contain organic molecules such as amino acids; the building blocks of life.”
Although researchers don’t know where the meteorite came from or how long it was on Earth, they have some ideas.
Our Solar System was originally a spiraling pile of dust and chondrites. Eventually gravity pulled most of these objects together into planets, but the rest mostly ended up in the great asteroid belt.
“This meteorite probably came out of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and it was kicked out of there by other asteroids colliding with each other, and then one day it smashed into Earth,” Henry told Channel 10 News.
Carbon dating indicates that the meteorite has been on Earth for between 100 and 1,000 years, and there have been several sightings of the meteor between 1889 and 1951 that could match its arrival on Earth.
The researchers argue that the Maryborough meteorite is rarer than gold, making it of great scientific interest. It is one of only 17 meteorites recorded in the Victoria region of Australia, and is the second largest chondritic mass, after the largest sample of 55 kilograms that was identified in 2003.
“This is only the 17th meteorite found in Victoria, where there have been thousands of gold finds,” Henry told Channel 10 News.
“If we look at many events, it’s the best, you could say, astronomical discovery ever.”
It’s not even the first meteorite to take years to reach a museum. In a surprising ScienceAlert article published in 2018, one space rock took 80 years, two owners, and a locked facility before it was revealed for what it was.
Now is as good a time as any to look behind you for heavy and hard-to-break rocks – you may be sitting on a figurative gold mine.
This study was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria.
A version of this article was originally published in July 2019.