Just the other day, an alien arrived at UND.
An 86-pound meteorite, brought by its owner for classification, spent an hour and a half in the Harold Hamm School of Geology and Geological Engineering. A small slice (left) was cut from it with a diamond blade. This piece remains at the school; the rest of the extraterrestrial returned home with its owner.
(Video montage including footage of the slicing can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GexROXDNJRI)
Over the next nine months, Justin Germann will classify the meteorite for his senior thesis. Germann is an undergraduate studying geology at UND. He explains how The Colgate, named for where the meteorite was first found, is made of rusted and non-rusted metals; finding the ratio of metals will help researchers to know where in the solar system The Colgate formed. “This rock is definitely older than any rock found on earth. I’m humbled to be classifying it.” Germann hopes to have his classification published on the national list of meteorites as the “largest meteorite found in North Dakota.” He will graduate in December 2017.
(right: Germann shows off the slice of The Colgate)
In an interview with WDAZ, Associate Professor Jaakko Putkonen also talked about The Colgate. He explained the importance of meteorites. Classifying meteorites helps researchers to know if the pieces found came from the same meteorite. When entering the Earth’s atmosphere, meteorites break into pieces and fall to the ground “like packages that came from the postal service from way back when,” says Putkonen. Once enough pieces are found, scientists can begin to guess the size of the original meteor.
(left: Putkonen and Germann interview with WDAZ) Why should anyone care about meteorites now? Putkonen explains they are falling all the time and sometimes very large meteors make it through the atmosphere and to the ground, “like the one that killed the dinosaurs” and the Red Wing Creek crater (5.6 miles across) in western North Dakota. Rocks of that size hitting the Earth cause a substantial amount of damage.
Having a meteorite to hold and examine is not something everyone experiences. Putkonen says, “you feel like you’re in touch with the cosmos.” He explains, meteorites are not rare; finding them is rare. If you do find them, they are very valuable, but they look normal until you pick them up. “If you hold it long enough, you’ll start levitating. Well, that’s not scientific,” he said, laughing. The amount of iron in them makes them heavier than regular rocks. You can find them anywhere; you just have to be diligent. Putkonen says the best place to find meteorites is in Antarctica. Expeditions are sent every year to collect pieces for classification.
More information on meteorites in North Dakota can be found in Meteorites in North Dakota published by the North Dakota Geological Survey.