Donated meteor coated in stardust

May 8, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Sometimes the most interesting stories at The Field Museum are behind the scenes. On Tuesday, a meteorite found just two weeks ago in California was donated by meteorite hunter Terry Boudreaux.

"This fall is a carbonaceous chondrite and it has material in dated to not only the birth of our solar system but to the birth of the universe," said Boudreaux.

Carbonaceous chondrite is a rare type of meteorite. Two weeks ago, meteorites fell across Nevada and California when a meteorite the size of a minivan blazed through our atmosphere. In the next few days several small pieces were found. Boudreaux bought several of them and is letting The Field Museum examine them.

"It looks like this is a very primitive meteorite that is about 4.6 billion years old and we will determine that," Dr. Philipp Heck, curator of meteorites, said. "The earth is about 4.5 billion years old."

That's older than the earth. "It probably came from an asteroid out in the asteroid belt from the Kuiper Belt at the far end of the solar system," Boudreaux said.

The Field Museum has more than 6,000 meteorites in its collection. It's the largest non-governmental collection in the world. All of those meteorites are very special but they're not quite as special as the ones seen Tuesday. They have stardust -- actual stardust.

"Yeah, intersteller stardust dated to the birth of the Big Bang. They are the little white calcium illuminated pieces in the meteorite that you can see with the naked eye," Boudreaux said.

"We are made out of stardust. The carbon in our bodies was once part of red giant stars and it's the same stardust that is still preserved in these old carbonaceous chrondrite meteorites," Dr. Heck said.

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