Meteorites Recovered Quickly from the April 27 Fall Near Natchez, Mississippi

The first meteorite found, with a 1-cm cube for scale. Credit: NASA.

A little after 8:00 a.m. CDT on April 27, eyewitnesses across Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas were surprised by a bright meteor. This event occurred just east of Natchez, Mississippi, featuring a fireball that was “like a flashlight shined in your eyes” even in daylight, with sonic booms that sounded “like a bomb going off,” according to local witnesses.

The meteor was detected by lightning sensors on two NOAA weather satellites and by nearby weather radars. By April 29, scientists at NASA’s Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) Division had produced a calculated strewn field map to show where meteorites were expected to have landed based on the satellite and radar data.

The next day, ARES Curator Marc Fries and his wife Linda Welzenbach drove to the site, where Linda quickly spotted the first meteorite. The strewn field has a four-lane highway running through it, and the meteorite was sitting next to the road. Its glossy black color stood out from the brown pebbles and grass and made it easy to recognize. The meteorite itself is coated with a thin layer of fusion crust (material that is melted as the meteoroid streaks through the atmosphere), with spots where the gray interior of the rock is exposed, and a brown streak where the meteorite landed. Meteorites slow down as they fall through the atmosphere, but this 41-gram stone was still moving more than 100 miles per hour when it struck the ground. The meteorite had been voyaging around our solar system for 4.5 billion years and brought a well-preserved record of the formation of our solar system.

As of this writing, about ten meteorites have been recovered, and ARES and Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) scientists will be searching for more soon. The rapid recovery of meteorite falls is extremely important because it provides extraterrestrial materials for scientists to study before they become contaminated by reaction with terrestrial materials.

Weather radar composite image showing signatures of falling meteorites, seen as blue and gray pixels in the image center. Meteorites have been found on the ground under these signatures. Credit: NASA.