A chunk of asteroid landed in the heart of Austria last year, entering the atmosphere as a rumbling fireball of space dust and light. It left behind a trail of awed onlookers, and the buzz of a new discovery.
In early July, the meteorite was found in Styria thanks to citizen scientists and a team of determined researchers, eight months after it lit up the sky. This week, it was announced it is undergoing review by The Meteoritical Society. The find marks a rare occasion for both the scientific community and the country, and pending official classification, will be dubbed the “Kindberg meteorite.”
Meteoroids are constantly falling into Earth’s atmosphere, but most of them are so small, they burn up right away, making that characteristic streak across the sky we call “shooting stars.” It’s much less common for a meteoroid to survive the impact, let alone for one to be found and picked up off the ground. The last time an Austrian meteorite was discovered was in 1977—only the seventh such find ever recorded. Every recovered meteorite represents a glimpse into the billion-year history of our solar system, and the chance of unlocking the origin of life on Earth.
At the center of the search was scientist Ludovic Ferrière, curator of one of the oldest and largest meteorite collections in the world at Austria’s Natural History Museum. He put a team together almost immediately, and began publicizing the need for local citizens to join the hunt. “When I saw the data,” Ferrière says, he knew—“this was a chance for a new meteorite to be found.”
According to Ferrière, the Kindberg meteorite is special for another reason: it’s one of only 40 in 60,000 that have been successfully tracked to their starting point in the solar system. That’s due to the recent development of a network of specialized cameras, diligently watching the sky. Scientists from the European Fireball Network were able to calculate the meteorite’s trajectory and determine that it came from a group called the Apollo asteroids, which orbit between the Sun and Mars, and occasionally cross Earth’s path.
The scientists were also instrumental in guiding the search party to the correct swath of Austrian highlands, where the meteorite was ultimately found by a Kindberg resident. Without the scientific research and the abundance of public support, Ferrière says, “Nobody would have looked. Nobody would have found it.”
“Each single meteorite is important,” Ferrière says. “Each one can tell you a new story about the formation of our solar system.” Next to the rarity of this cosmic event—a new entry into the story of the universe is perhaps one more reason to celebrate.
The Kindberg meteorite, or a fragment, will eventually be put on display for the public at the Natural History Museum in Vienna.