The man keeps the rock for years, hoping it's gold.  It turns out to be much more valuable

The man keeps the rock for years, hoping it’s gold. It turns out to be much more valuable

In 2015, David Hole was prospecting in Maryborough Regional Park near Melbourne, Australia.

Armed with a metal detector, he discovered something out of the ordinary – a very heavy reddish rock lying in yellow clay.

He took it home and tried everything to crack it open, sure there was a nugget of gold inside the rock – after all, Maryborough is in the Goldfields area, where the rush towards Australian gold peaked in the 19th century.

To open up his find, Hole tried a rock saw, an angle grinder, a drill, and even dipped the thing in acid. However, even a sledgehammer could not make a crack. It’s because what he was trying so hard to crack open wasn’t a gold nugget.

As he discovered years later, it was a rare meteorite.

“It had this carved, honeycombed look,” said Melbourne museum geologist Dermot Henry. The Sydney Morning Herald in 2019.

“It forms as they pass through the atmosphere, they melt out and the atmosphere sculpts them.”

Unable to open the “rock”, but still intrigued, Hole took the nugget to the Melbourne Museum for identification.

“I’ve looked at a lot of rocks that people think are meteorites,” Henry told Channel 10 News.

In fact, after 37 years of working at the museum and examining thousands of rocks, Henry said only two of the offerings turned out to be true meteorites.

It was one of two.

The Maryborough meteorite, with a slab cut in the mass. (Melbourne Museum)

“If you’ve seen a rock like this on Earth and picked it up, it shouldn’t be that heavy,” Melbourne museum geologist Bill Birch explained to The Sydney Morning Herald.

The researchers published a scientific paper describing the 4.6 billion year old meteorite, which they named Maryborough after the town near which it was found.

It weighs 17 kilograms (37.5 pounds) and after using a diamond saw to cut a small slice, researchers found that its composition had a high percentage of iron, making it an ordinary H5 chondrite.

When opened, you can also see the tiny crystallized droplets of metallic minerals, called chondrules.

“Meteorites provide the cheapest form of space exploration. They transport us through time, providing clues to the age, formation and chemistry of our solar system (including Earth),” Henry said.

“Some provide a glimpse into the deep interior of our planet. In some meteorites there is ‘stardust’ even older than our solar system, which shows us how stars form and evolve to create elements of the periodic table.

“Other rare meteorites contain organic molecules such as amino acids; the building blocks of life.”

Close up of the Maryborough meteoriteA slab cut from the Maryborough meteorite. (Birch et al., PRSV, 2019)

Although researchers don’t yet know where the meteorite came from and how long it has been on Earth, they have a few guesses.

Our solar system was once a pile of dust and chondrite. Eventually gravity gathered much of this material into the planets, but the remnants mostly ended up in a massive asteroid belt.

“This particular meteorite most likely comes out of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and it was pushed out of there by asteroids that collided, and then one day it crashed into Earth,” said Henry at Channel 10 News.

Carbon dating suggests the meteorite was on Earth between 100 and 1,000 years ago, and there were a number of meteor sightings between 1889 and 1951 that could match its arrival on our planet.

Researchers say the Maryborough meteorite is much rarer than gold, making it much more valuable to science. It is one of 17 meteorites ever recorded in the Australian state of Victoria, and is the second largest chondritic mass, after a massive 55 kilogram specimen identified in 2003.

“This is only the 17th meteorite found in Victoria, when there have been thousands of gold nuggets found,” Henry told Channel 10 News.

“Looking at the chain of events, it’s quite, one might say, astronomical that it’s been uncovered at all.”

It’s not even the first meteorite to take a few years to arrive in a museum. In a particularly stunning story that ScienceAlert covered in 2018, a space rock took 80 years, two owners, and a passage as a doorstop before it was finally revealed for what it really was.

This is probably the perfect time to check your garden for particularly heavy, hard-to-break rocks – you may be sitting on a metaphorical goldmine.

The study was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria.

A version of this article originally appeared in July 2019.

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