This Fireworks Show Is a 4.5 Billion-Year-Old Meteorite Exploding

Back in October 2012, a meteorite whizzed through our atmosphere and broke up in a dazzling display over California. One particular fragment, embedded in the roof of a house, was recovered by NASA for study. Now NASA is ready to reveal a bit more about the meteorite, which was likely formed in the same collision that made the moon 4.5 billion years ago.

Lisa Webber and Glenn Rivera of Novato, California, heard a thump on their roof three years ago. When they later went up to investigate, they found a small piece of rock stuck in a tile. Indeed, it was a piece of space rock, just 2.2 ounces. In total, NASA found six fragments of the meteorite, dubbed "Novato" for where that first piece was found. The photo above is a composite that depicts the Novato fragmenting in a time series that goes from left to right.

This Fireworks Show Is a 4.5 Billion-Year-Old Meteorite Exploding

The piece of the asteroid identified by Lisa Webber's neighbor, Luis Rivera. P. Jenniskens SETI Institute/NASA AR

Before Novato was a meteorite, it was part of an asteroid. Its chemical composition seems to match the Gefion asteroid family that usually resides in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. And before it was an asteroid, it was part of a larger body and (probably) was smashed into asteroid pieces during a collision 4.5 billions years ago when our moon also formed. How exactly the moon came to be is still matter of debate, but that massive collision set off a domino effect of crashes in space.

When Novato finally fell to Earth, the scientists estimate it measured 14 inches across and 176 pounds. Most of the meteorite vaporized in the atmosphere, leaving a handful of recovered fragments—the end of many billions of years journeying through space. [NASA]

Top photo: Robert P. Moreno Jr., Jim Albers and Peter Jenniskens