An Unrecorded Meteor Crater on Mount Ararat?

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By Mark Mathosian

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As a meteorite collector I am always interested in hearing the latest news about meteors and meteorites. Therefore, you can imagine my pleasant surprise when I received a Google e-mail alert on November 18, reporting that two roving physicists stumbled upon a possibly undocumented meteor crater on — of all places — Mount Ararat!

According to the short news report in my inbox, the two researchers found the crater while hiking the area. The crater, which still needs to be verified as being a meteor crater, is located at an altitude of 2,100 meters, at coordinates 39˚ 47’ 30’’N, 44˚ 14’ 40’’E. It is about 70 meters across, well-preserved and previously unrecorded.
The two physicists, Vahe Gurzadyan from the Yerevan Physics Institute in Armenia and Sverre Aarseth from the University of Cambridge in the UK, are publishing an account of their discovery. They hope that by doing so their report will attract interest in the site and the crater can be properly classified.

Today there is a huge market for meteorites because they are rare and collectible. Many meteorites are named according to the area or region where they are found. If this crater does prove to be from a meteor then perhaps meteorites will be found around its rim and they will be called Mount Ararat Meteorites. Wouldn’t that be nice! For now, we will just have to wait and see.

Because collecting meteorites is fun and educational I thought I would give readers a little insight into what meteorites are all about.

Meteorites are pieces of other bodies in our solar system that make it to the ground when a meteor or “shooting star” flashes through our atmosphere at speeds of roughly 32,000 to 150,000 miles per hour. The majority of meteorites that hit earth came from asteroids shattered by impact with other asteroids. They also come from the moon, comets and from Mars.

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Of the thousands of meteorite falls each year only five or six are actually observed. These falls are recovered and become desirable specimens for collection or scientific study. A meteorite found on the ground after a meteoric event has been witnessed is called a fall. Those found by chance are called a find. Each fragment from a meteorite shower is called an individual. The geographic area where meteorites are found is called a strewn field.

Meteorites fall randomly. They are found all over the world, from the tropics to the poles. Many fall into oceans and are never recovered. Interestingly, the chances of being hit by a meteorite are very small. Only about 60 people have been struck by a meteorite in the last 3,000 years. That equals one person every 50 years.

Many meteorites are similar to common earth rocks. For example, some are like volcanic rocks. Others contain iron and nickel. Iron and nickel meteorites are believed to be like the materials in the earth’s core. Some meteorites are very different from earth rocks and contain unique materials.

Scientists believe certain meteorites contain the primitive materials from which our solar system was made. The recovered mass of meteorites represents some of the scarcest material on earth, even more rare than gold. Because of their scarcity and primitive origins, meteorites are sought after by collectors and scientists. They have been dubbed “the poor man’s space probe.”

Without getting too technical, meteorites can be broken down into three main types, stone, stony-iron and iron.
Stone meteorites are predominantly composed of minerals similar to minerals found in earth rocks. However, the proportions of these minerals are different from earth rocks. Rocks in the earth’s deep interior may closely resemble stone meteorites. Many stony meteorites are discovered in Antarctica.

Stony-iron meteorites contain some metal and sulfide and some of these are thought to be the product of melting asteroids or planets. Stony-irons are rarer than stone meteorites and often demand a premium price in the market place. When observed under a light, Pallasites, stony-irons with gem stone qualities, are truly beautiful and highly collectible.

Iron meteorites are the cores of planets and asteroids. At one time iron meteorites were completely molten and inside the core of asteroids. The majority of the largest meteorites found on earth are made of solid iron with traces of nickel and other minerals. Individual irons resemble the asteroids and meteors portrayed in science fiction movies. Iron meteorites come to mind when most people visualize a meteor or meteorite. Irons are often cut into slices so their interior can be polished and displayed. Put a magnet on one and you will certainly keep someone’s attention.

If your interests in meteorites has been tweaked, here is book I recommend that will help you become a collector, Rocks from Space by O. Richard Norton. This book is considered the bible of meteorite collecting. Norton explains shooting stars, meteor showers and fireballs. He takes the reader back to the 1400s, when the oldest witnessed fall of a meteorite was observed near a village in France. He teachers readers to learn to recognize all types of meteorites with tips on collecting and preserving them.

(The author is an avid collector of meteorites. Readers can ask questions at mmathosian007(at)roadrunner.com.)

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