Sikhote-Alin fragment

In 1947, a flaming fireball -- trailed by a huge, multicolored plume of smoke and described by one witness as "as large as the sun" -- streaked across the sky in Eastern Siberia. The ground along its path shook, windows rattled, and a huge explosion followed by a thunderlike sound was heard for miles around.


Within days, a total of 132 craters and smaller pits created by the explosion of the fireball were discovered in the Sikhote-Alin mountains, with the largest being about 85 feet in diameter and 20 feet deep.

What makes the Sikhote-Alin meteorite so special is that it produced craters whose cause was known beyond the shadow of a doubt. The fall convinced a largely skeptical world that craters could indeed be created by meteorites -- a hypothesis which had been proven only by indirect evidence up until that point.

Furthermore, study of the craters allowed scientists to understand far better what happens when a large meteorite slams into the Earth. For instance, they discovered that it is only smaller meteorites that survive their landings intact -- the force of the collision is so great that larger bodies splinter into fragments immediately upon impact.

 

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