Imagine scanning through images in Google Earth and stumbling across a meteor crater made by a hunk of flying iron from the asteroid belt. That’s just what Vincenzo de Michele, former curator of the Natural History Museum in Milan, Italy did while scouring satellite photos in search of new impact craters. Not long after, in February 2009, he and others undertook an expedition to the site in southern Egypt near the Sudanese border to verify whether it was a true crater.
Oh yes indeed it was.
They found thousands of fragments of nickel-iron meteorites scattered in and around the Kamil Crater, a modest hole in the ground 184 feet across and 52 feet deep. What’s amazing is how fresh the crater is – check out those rays of colorful rock spray still visible beyond the crater’s rim. Scientists estimate the original meteorite was about 5 feet across, weighed 10 tons and fell some 5000 years ago.
This past February, a combined Italian-Egyptian geophysical expedition made a careful survey of Kamil Crater and recovered 5,178 meteorite fragments – plus impact-related glasses – totaling 1.7 tons! The largest fragment weighs 183 lbs. (83 kg) and its surface is covered with beautiful regmaglypts or “thumbprints” created when the fierce heat of atmospheric entry melted softer spots which sloughed off during flight. Most of the meteorites have torn and ripped shapes indicating that the original mass likely exploded during flight due to a good pounding by the atmosphere.
The meteorite, now known as Gebel Kamil, after a distinctive spire of rock in the area, is different from many iron meteorites because it contains an unusually large amount of nickel. Most irons contain between 5-10% nickel but Gebel Kamil is loaded with 20%. This makes it a considerably rarer type of iron meteorite called an ataxite. The irons from Meteor Crater east of Flagstaff, Arizona are of a more common variety containing less nickel.
So you can experience a little of the adventure yourself in finding a meteorite crater, this link will bring you to Google Earth where you can explore the Kamil crater and vicinity from your very own desktop. Lots more photos posted by the February expedition team are HERE.