Very few people realize this, but every day, hundreds of pounds of space rock—we’re talking asteroid pieces, iron, rock, and nickel—falls to the Earth from outer space. By the time it lands, however, it has largely disintegrated, which is why we never see it. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen.
Of course, there’s always an exception to the rule, and the Hoba meteorite might be the world’s biggest. What makes it so strange isn’t just its size or that it made it all the way to Earth intact. No, there’s something else about this spectacular space rock, and it has scientists completely stumped…
Scientists estimate that hundreds of pounds of meteoric material falls toward the Earth every single day. While most of it disintegrates before it reaches the surface, sometimes it lands completely intact. The Hoba meteorite is one of the best examples of one of these uber-rare instances.
Of course, meteorites are capable of causing severe damage, mostly in the shape of massive craters, when they come crashing down. Just take what happened some 65 million years ago when one gigantic meteorite wiped out the dinosaurs…
While researchers are well aware of the damages a crashing meteorite can cause, they’ve never been able to explain why the Hoba—the world’s largest and heaviest meteor—didn’t leave much of a mark when it hit the Earth…
Situated on a farm in the central-north area of Namibia, South Africa, the Hoba meteorite’s landing spot was fairly close to the city of Grootfontein, or “Hoba West” as many people lovingly refer to it. The farmer who discovered it in 1920, Jacobus Hermanus Brits, had no idea when it had landed.
When the farmer accidentally found the Hoba meteorite, he’d been working on the Hoba farm, hence its name. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary when he found it, since only the top part of it was visible to him.
Brits did note that the surrounding soil had become chalky, and that the meteorite itself had a dark black color. “I scratched the rock with my knife and saw there was a shine beneath the surface,” he said at the time.
Brits initially had no idea what he found, so he immediately alerted the local authorities. When they arrived, they confirmed that the humongous object was, indeed, a meteorite.
What most baffled researchers, however, was how such a massive object (the Hoba weighs roughly 66 tons, or between 119,000 and 120,000 pounds) didn’t leave as massive of a crater as it should have. In fact, it hardly left a mark at all. How was this possible?
Some researchers estimated that the Hoba meteorite’s speed must have gradually slowed as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere, and it reached the point of terminal velocity—or zero acceleration—in order to have such a soft landing. Of course, this raised only more questions…
How was the Hoba meteorite able to remain intact upon entering Earth’s atmosphere? Unless it was part of a much more massive meteorite that disintegrated as it crashed toward Earth…
There are, of course, certain aspects that make the meteorite special besides its lack of a crater. For instance, it’s comprised almost entirely of iron—84 percent, in fact—making it the only piece of iron on Earth not made by man!
Upon further research, a group of scientists was able to confirm the Hoba meteorite’s entire composition, which wasn’t just iron. It also was found to be made up of about 16 percent nickel.
Sergio Conti / Flickr
What makes the Hoba even more amazing and rare is that only about five percent of meteorite pieces that ever make it to the Earth’s surface have a similar makeup. Not only that, but none have ever come close to matching its enormous size!
Since scientists were able to find traces of a rare radioactive nickel isotope, they officially determined the Hoba meteorite’s age, which they claimed is between 190 and 410 million years old.
Not only that, but scientists now believe that the Hoba landed on Earth some 80,000 years ago. That might explain why any marks it may have made from its impact are no longer visible.
The Hoba meteorite has since become a popular tourist attraction. Unfortunately, authorities have been forced to take precaution in order to help protect the massive rock from vandals.
Amazingly, back in 1955, the Namibian government actually recognized the Hoba and its crash site as a national monument! Clearly, this thing is one seriously popular space rock.
In 1987, the owner of the Hoba farm, J. Engelbrecht, decided to donate the meteorite. Soon after, an information center was created on-site to teach the public all about the incredible rock’s history.
The construction at the crash site also included the steps that currently surround it, which tourists now use to walk down toward the Hoba meteorite to access it.
Other small pieces of the Hoba meteorite have since been removed by researchers and placed on display in a number of different museums around the world. That way, people everywhere can experience its wonders!
The Hoba meteorite is truly a scientific anomaly. It makes you wonder what other sort of things are hiding around the Earth just waiting to be discovered.
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