For more than 80 years, Rosa González Pérez kept her meteorite tucked away in a little box containing her old medallions and broken gold chains.
It fell out of the sky right behind her on July 9, 1931, around 9.30am, in the middle of a village called Ardón, in León province. The 11-year-old Rosa, who had gone out to run some errands for her mother, picked up the blackish, irregularly shaped object, which was the size of a marble, and felt it burning in her hand. Shortly before this she had noticed a dusty wake in the sky and had heard a loud noise.
“Of course I remember, I can see it falling right now,” she says over the phone, speaking from León during a recent conversation with EL PAÍS.
Rosa showed the rock to her mother, who probably told a neighbor about it. In any case, the local priest showed up at her house that very afternoon, and informed her that it was a meteorite, that he had heard about it on the radio, explains Rosa’s nephew José Antonio González.
The priest was right. It was a meteorite, more specifically a chondrite, which dated from around 4.56 billion years old, when the Solar System was still being formed.
Aunt Rosa’s meteorite traveled through space for millions of years
José Antonio was intrigued by the meteorite that his aunt had so lovingly kept all these years, and he got in touch with a researcher from the state-run Scientific Research Council (CSIC), Josep María Trigo. Rosa’s little rock thus began the scientific portion of its existence, and moved from the medallion box to the National Museum of Natural Science.
After being analyzed and registered with The Meteoritical Society, a small section from the meteorite has become part of the Spanish museum’s collection, together with a replica of the entire rock, while Rosa’s family decides what to do with the original.
“We want to keep it for its emotional value,” says José Antonio, who is happy and proud about this turn of events. As for Aunt Rosa, now 94, she is happy “that the mystery has been finally solved.”
She explains that when the rock fell on the ground, she looked behind her to see whether someone had hurled it at her. “But all the doors were shut, and it was burning hot, so I though maybe it came from a fireplace.”
Rosa continued on her way to the wine shop “to bring my uncle his lunch; he was bottling wine and I showed it to him. It was still burning hot and I kept switching it from hand to hand. At home I showed it to my mother and her aunt, and they were amazed...they must have told the neighbors, because Don Pedro the priest came that afternoon to ask me questions, and he told me it was a meteorite.”
“Ardón [the meteorite has been named by scientists after the village] is a marvelous meteorite, it is a witness, as are all chondrites, to primordial matter aggregation in the Solar System,” explains Trigo, who is an expert on meteorites at the national Space Sciences Institute and the Space Studies Institute of Catalonia.
Meteorites are valuable scientific tools yet bring little money on the market
The rock belongs to a family of chondrites that are apparently fragments of the asteroid 1,272 Gefion, and which reach Earth from the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter. This highly porous rock belongs to a larger body, whose internal heat never surpassed 800 degrees Celsius, and thus did not undergo the physical and chemical transformations of a planet like the Earth, explains Trigo. Therein lies its importance as a window into what the primordial solids of the Solar System were like.
Scientists have now been able to explain to Rosa that the 5.5-gram rock that she has carefully preserved all her life traveled through space for millions of years as part of a larger object that broke up on that July morning after entering Earth’s atmosphere. Newspapers of the era reported on the sound and the wake that was clearly visible in the sky.
“I’d known about it for over 30 years,” says José Antonio, a retired handbag maker with a penchant for science. “But a couple of years ago, because of a move, it emerged again, and I know that meteorites are interesting, so I did an online search and found Professor Trigo.”
Around 73 percent of all known meteorites that have reached the Earth’s surface are chondrites. Aunt Rosa’s is of the L6 type.
Trigo is now hoping that other people who have curious-looking rocks at home that they suspect may be meteorites will give scientists a chance to analyze them. They are very valuable as tools to learn about the Solar System, yet bring in little money on the market. “For €30 you can buy several meteorites like this one,” he notes. Aunt Rosa’s meteorite has an estimated value of €50, according to the National Museum of Natural Science.
In any case, the CSIC notes that according to Spanish legislation, meteorites falling on national territory become part of the geological heritage and cannot be taken out of the country.