Sikhote-Alin Meteorite

March 20, 2021

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away in the still frosty morning light, the sky came to life with fireballs as bright as the sun. At 10.38am on February 12th 1947 it rained a shower of meteors over the thick forest of Sikhote-Alin Mountains in eastern Russia. In the 5 seconds of rapid trajectory the meteorite travelled over 600km, exploding mid-flight into fragments, finally impacting the Earth in a series of explosive bangs followed by a thunderous roar that rolled over the hills echoing throughout the villages. The enormous meteorite left behind a dusty trial of smoke and meteoroid particles that could be seen in the sky until sunset.

Not your average morning in Russia.

The Sikhote-Alin Meteorite is the largest observed meteorite fall in modern history. It is estimated that over 23,000kg fell that morning leaving behind 120 craters, the largest measuring 6 x 26 metres, with debris covering an elliptical area of 1.62km. The pre-atmospheric size of meteorite body was suggested to weigh over 1000 tonnes and more than 70 tonnes estimated to have reach the Earth’s surface. From this, 8,500 specimens have been collected, the largest weighing in at 1,725kg!

Classified as an iron meteorite, the Sikhote-Alin Meteorite contains chemical constituents of 93.2% iron, 6% nickel, 0.47% Cobalt, 0.03% copper, 0.28% Phosphorus and less than 0.01% Silicia. Kamecite, taenite, trilete, schreibersite and chromite are the main component iron-nickel alloys that exist within the meteorite’s composition and by studying them structural classes can be determined.

Known as the ‘stone for endurance’ iron meteorites are amongst the densest materials on earth and were once part of the hot core of a long vanished planet. With an iron content over 90% these meteorites are much heavier than any Earth rocks. When I first saw a piece of Sikhote-Alin meteorite it looked and felt exactly as I imagined meteorites to be: hard, heavy, metallic with a raw, textured surface. I could picture it soaring through the air with a burning streak behind it. How cool! Obviously, I bought myself a Sikhote-Alin meteorite ring right away.

Sikhote-Alin Meteorites are charactised into two types, ‘Shrapnel’ and ‘Individuals’. More commonly found specimens are Shrapnel, identified by a sharp, jagged surface that is a result of the violent explosion that occurred as the fireball came through the Earth’s atmosphere. These bodies were too close to impact to take advantage of atmospheric heating and reshaping effects and so they still have an ‘explosive’ appearance.

Individuals are rare and have a more blob-like appearance with rounded, deep markings called regmaglypts (also called thumbprints). This textured surface is a direct result of atmospheric heating, aerodynamic surface shaping and ablation due to the longer time spent in flight.

The Sikhote-Alin Meteorite is classified as a coarse (large crystals) iron octahedrite (type IIB). When sliced, and etched these meteorites will display an amazing internal crystalline structure named the Widmanstätten Pattern, a crystalline structure unique to extraterrestrial iron-nickel material.

Crystallising in an octahedral form, the alloy components within the meteorite structure form a cross-hatching of angular shapes, which vary depending on the orientation of the meteorite when it is cut.

Although many meteorites, like Pallasites or the Gibeon Meteorite, are sliced before setting in jewellery, pieces of the Sikhote-Alin Meteorite are already conveniently small and perfect to set in rings, pendants and bracelets as they are. For this reason, slicing Sikhote-Alin Meteorites isn’t commonly done, they are rather appreciated for what’s on the outside rather than their inner beauty within and given the small surface area, their Widmanstätten Pattern wouldn’t easily be seen.

Bunny Bedi, owner and designer at Made in Earth, has had a long relationship with this ancient space rock. “Since first seeing these pieces of meteorite shrapnel I was instantly inspired to create a Sikhote-Alin Meteorite jewellery collection with them. They are all so unique in their shape and form and given their outer space origins they have such a fascinating story to tell. All of the jewellery we create has an interesting history, but the Sikhote-Alin Meteorite has a documented history of its arrival on earth. That in itself is truly amazing!

“These meteorites are durable and everlasting and have been popular with both men and women. We aim to create jewellery that can be cherished for a lifetime, but I think these jewels will outlast the wearer. Sadly, the Sikhote-Alin Meteorite is becoming rare and prices are steadily increasing as specimens become more and more limited. We’ll have to wait for more to fall from the sky”.

From the universe to earth, from Russia with love; the Sikhote-Alin Meteorite catapulted into our world with ferocious velocity in the light of day. We may never know the secrets of the universe but we can own our own piece of meteoric shrapnel jewellery, albeit small, as our connection to the galaxy above.

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