Five years ago, a partially crusted, dark red meteorite crashed in the Sahara desert and was sold in Morocco. Meteorites, almost exclusively, are of extraterrestrial origin, but this chunk seemed weirdly familiar, leading scientists to believe that it originated from the same planet where it ended up thousands of years later.
During the 2023 Goldschmidt Conference on geochemistry, held from July 9 to 14 in Lyon, France, a team of international researchers presented data to suggest that “Northwest Africa 13188" is a meteorite from Earth. The researchers have not yet published their work in a study.
The meteorite, referred to as NWA 13188 for short, shares the same chemical composition as volcanic rock on Earth, according to the researchers. Some of its elements (or isotopes), however, suggest that it was exposed to cosmic rays in space for a relatively short period of around 10,000 years.
Based on its unique composition, the researchers suggest that NWA 13188 is a meteorite that launched from Earth and later fell back to its surface after spending some time traveling through space. It may have been initially ejected from Earth after an asteroid crashed onto our planet thousands of years ago or through a volcanic eruption, after which the piece of Earth rock traveled in an orbit around the Sun before falling back onto the surface of our planet.
This would make NWA 13188 the first evidence of an Earth meteorite returning to its home planet. The researchers still need to date the meteorite in order to confirm their hypothesis, in addition to measuring how long it was likely exposed to cosmic rays to get a more accurate timeline of the rock’s journey.
Although it remains unconfirmed, further analysis of the odd space rock could be the first-of-its-kind discovery—a meteorite that just couldn’t bear to stay away from home.