A rare 'extraterrestrial mud ball' rained down on a small town

A meteorite that hit Costa Rica last month was unlike anything to impact our planet in the last half century.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Expertise Solar, solar storage, space, science, climate change, deregulated energy, DIY solar panels, DIY off-grid life projects. CNET's "Living off the Grid" series. https://www.cnet.com/feature/home/energy-and-utilities/living-off-the-grid/ Credentials
  • Finalist for the Nesta Tipping Point prize and a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Eric Mack
2 min read

 An unusual arrowhead-shaped meteorite from the Aguas Zarcas fall.


We might think of meteorites as dry, dead hunks of space rock. But one mess of wet cosmic clay broke apart above a small town in Costa Rica last month, littering the area with bits of a rare type of meteorite.

The meteoroid about as big as a washing machine lit up the skies over Aquas Zarcas, Costa Rica on April 23 as it flew apart into smaller pieces. One fist-size hunk crashed through the roof of a home, hitting a few tables within.

Though the meteorite might look like a normal stone, it's actually a rare carbonaceous chondrite that's rich in organic compounds and full of water.

#ATENCIÓN Cámara de "Turrialba Digital " capta posible ingreso de meteorito a la atmósfera terrestre #COMPARTIR Las cámaras de monitoreo de Turrialba Digital captaron un gran destello a las 9:08:54 de la noche de este 23 de abril sobre la montaña del volcán Turrialba, que podría ser justo la entrada del meteoro a la atmósfera del planeta, mismo que fue apreciado más ampliamente en San Carlos. En este link puede seguir la publicación de ese medio informativo: https://www.turrialbadigital.com/noticias/otras-informaciones/camara-de-turrialba-digital-capta-destello-de-posible-meteoro

Posted by Allan Jara on Wednesday, April 24, 2019

"Many carbonaceous chondrites are mud balls that are between 80 and 95 percent clay," Arizona State University Research Professor Laurence Garvie said in a release. "Clays are important because water is an integral part of their structure."

Many scientists rushed to get their hands on what could be literal bits of the early solar system that fell from the heavens. 

"It formed in an environment free of life, then was preserved in the cold and vacuum of space for 4.56 billion years, and then dropped in Costa Rica," Garvie explained.  

The last time such a large rain of carbonaceous chondrite fell on earth was 50 years ago, in 1969, so researchers were eager to get ahold of the samples before the elements did.

"These had to be collected quickly and before they got rained on," Garvie explained. "Because they are mostly clay, as soon as these types of meteorites get wet, they fall apart."

Over 50 pounds of meteorites were collected from the area before the next rain hit, and ASU was among the research institutions that purchased some samples from local collectors. 

Meenakshi Wadhwa, director of ASU's Center for Meteorite Studies, says they could "contain the best-preserved clues to the origin of the solar system."

"This new meteorite represents one of the most scientifically significant additions to our wonderful collection in recent years," Wadhwa said.

Samples from the Costa Rica meteor are on display at the center's collection on the ASU campus in Tempe, Arizona.