Swedish Space Rock Is a New Type of Meteorite

Qing-zhu Yin, UC Davis
Qing-zhu Yin, UC Davis / Qing-zhu Yin, UC Davis

Geochemists have identified a mysterious space rock found in Sweden, and believe it’s a type of meteorite never before seen on Earth. They published their report in the journal Nature Communications.

Around 470 million years ago, two objects collided above our planet, raining debris across the surface of the globe. We’re very familiar with one of those objects: it was the original source of L-chondrites, the most common type of meteorite. But the identity of the other object remained a mystery.

Much of the detritus from that mid-air collision landed and embedded itself in what is today a Swedish limestone quarry. Quarry workers recovered the first two pieces in 1993. After that, researchers undertook a systematic search, eventually uncovering more than 100 meteorites. All but one of those were L-chondrites.

The remaining rock was an object of fascination from the start. To find out its age and origin story, researchers scraped tiny samples and analyzed the molecules within. They found that the rock’s chemical makeup was completely unique … and, like the common meteorites around it, the rock was just about 470 million years old. Here, the authors believe, they have found at least some of the remains of that mysterious object. They named the new meteorite Österplana 065, or Ö65 for short, after the location where it was found.

Co-author Qing-zhu Yin is a geochemist and planetary scientist at the University of California, Davis. “In our entire civilization, we have collected over 50,000 meteorites, and no one has seen anything like this one before,” he said in a press statement. “Discovering a new type of meteorite is very, very exciting.”

A prehistoric storm of space rocks like the one that delivered Ö65 would have reshaped the very surface of the planet, potentially creating new habitats and environmental niches where organisms could evolve.

"I think this shows the interconnectedness of the entire solar system in space and time, that a random collision 470 million years ago in the asteroid belt could dictate the evolutionary path of species here on Earth," Yin said.