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New Dutch meteorite fell in 1873

Posted on 12-12-2013 by Astrid Kromhout

The stone has a rare composition of scientific importance.

140 years after its fall to earth, there is official recognition at last: the rock that landed near the Dutch village of Diepenveen back in 1873 is the fifth Dutch meteorite. The “Diepenveen”, as it’s called, has an unusual composition and may contain complex molecules that could perhaps have played a role in the origin of life on earth.

"A blinding light"

Around 3 o’clock in the afternoon of the 27th October 1873, a piece of rock plummeted to earth narrowly missing people working in the fields of Diepenveen, a village lying to the east of the Netherlands near the town of Deventer. “There was a blinding light and much hissing as this rock fell down”, according to the writing on the little wooden box, made to house the meteorite at a later stage.

Then, on the 11th August 2012, nearly 140 years later, amateur astronomer and former Director of the Eise Eisinga Planetarium in Franeker, Henk Nieuwenhuis, came across the rock as part of a collection belonging to a Mrs L. Kiers. “I really couldn’t believe my eyes,” remembers Mr Nieuwenhuis who straightaway recognised the rock as a carbonaceous meteorite. Mr Nieuwenhuis’ identification of this rock as a meteorite was later confirmed through research carried out by astronomer Niek de Kort of the Royal Netherlands Association for Meteorology and Astronomy (KNVWS) and geoscientists Marco Langbroek and Wim van Westrenen of the Vrije Universiteit (VU) of Amsterdam. Initially sceptical, the scientists became very excited as they realised that the rock was indeed an unrecognised Dutch meteorite.

Origin of life on earth

The Diepenveen discovery turns out to be very important internationally because of its unusual composition. It belongs to the relatively large class of so-called ‘stony meteorites’ but within this class, there is a rare sub-class known as ‘carbonaceous chondrites’, to which only about 1% of all meteorites belong, and the Diepenveen meteorite is one of these. Carbonaceous chondrites can contain complex molecules which may have played a role in the origin of life on earth. Analysis of a small piece of the Diepenveen has shown that it does indeed contain organic molecules but what those are exactly is now the subject of further research. Scientists at the Faculty of GeoSciences at the VU University of Amsterdam and Naturalis Biodiversity Center are writing various scientific publications about the Diepenveen meteorite, together with various international organisations.

The Diepenveen meteorite is extremely old, as old as the solar system which formed roughly 4.6 billion years ago. It weighs 68 grams.

History of the find

The researchers are also interested to know whether other bits of rock from around that time in 1873 are hidden away somewhere. So during the Christmas holiday, a day has been organised during which the inhabitants of Diepenveen will be asked whether they may have, perhaps somewhere in their attic, some material or documents that could shed some more light on this extraordinary discovery.

Scientific collection

In the meantime, on the 12th December 2013 at 11:30 a.m., the meteorite’s former owner, Mrs L. Kiers, presented the ‘Diepenveen’ to the Director of Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Edwin van Huis. As part of Naturalis' scientific collection, the rock will still be accessible for further research and it will also be officially included on the international list of meteorites. In exchange for the Diepenveen, Mrs Kiers will be given a piece from a similar sort of meteorite, ‘the Allende.’

Meteorite weekend in January

The Diepenveen, together with the four other Dutch meteorites, are on view to the public at Naturalis for just one weekend: the 18th and 19th January 2014. During that weekend, the scientists involved with this discovery will tell their story and hold a workshop called ‘How to recognise a meteorite.’ People can then also bring their own discoveries for examination by the experts. A detailed programme for this weekend will soon be available here (in Dutch).
More extensive background information about the Diepenveen and the other Dutch meteorites can be found here (in Dutch).

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