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The Tagish Meteorite was probably about 5 meters across before it entered the Earth's atmosphere. It broke apart before landing on the icy lake. Before the rising temperatures of spring melted the ice on the lake, over 500 meteorite fragments were found, 410 fragments were documented and about 200 fragments were recovered. One of the meteorite fragments appears here in the ice of Tagish Lake. The camera lense cap was placed next to the meteorite fragment for size comparison purposes.
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Image courtesy of the University of Western Ontario and the University of Calgary

A Look at the Solar System's Past - the Tagish Meteorite
News story originally written on September 24, 2001

On January 18, 2000, a bright fireball streaked through the skies of northern Canada as a meteorite entered the atmosphere and fell to Earth. The meteorite eventually came to rest on the surface of a frozen lake (Tagish Lake, in British Columbia). In addition to providing those who saw it fall with an exciting show, the meteorite has turned out to be one of the most interesting meteorites ever found.

The Tagish Lake Meteorite is one of a rare class of carbon-rich, charcoal-like meteorites called "carbonaceous chondrites". This class of meteorites is made up of the same dust and gases from which the solar system formed. By studying the chemical composition of these meteorites, scientists can study what the chemical composition of the early solar system was like.

Scientists are especially interested in the Tagish Lake Meteorite because recent studies have shown that the molecules found inside this meteorite are much simpler than those found in other meteorites in this class. Other meteorites have had a much more complex mixture of molecules, but the Tagish Lake samples contained mostly molecular carbon and pockets of helium and argon (two gases that would have been found in the gas and dust clouds that the solar system formed from).

Because the Tagish Lake Meteorite is so primitive chemically, it gives scientists a better understanding of what the early composition of the solar system was like. In a way, then, it's a little like being given a picture of the solar system as a baby, and being able to understand a little better what it was like when it was young!

Last modified September 21, 2001 by Jennifer Bergman.

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