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Bacubirito: 160 years since the discovery of the world's longest meteorite





The Bacubirito Meteorite, discovered in 1863 in the village of Camichín, in a remote region north of the state of Sinaloa in Mexico, has been a source of fascination and interest for 160 years. Although it was long considered the largest meteorite in the world, it now holds the title of the longest, measuring 4.1 m in length. Despite the time elapsed since its discovery, many mysteries still surround it. One of the most intriguing is related to the "four ages" associated with meteorites. These ages include: the meteorite's initial formation, the time it spent traveling through space, the moment it impacted Earth, and finally, the day it was discovered. This essay will delve into these four ages, focusing on the iconic Bacubirito meteorite.


Origins


Meteorites are the result of catastrophic events in space, such as stellar explosions, collisions between asteroids, or fragmentation of planetoids. Depending on where these fragments come from in celestial objects, they are classified into three types: rocky (from the crust), metallic (from the core), and mixed, which combine features of the previous two. Mexico is home to an impressive variety of these specimens. Among them stands out Bacubirito, a metallic meteorite that measures 4.1 meters in length. Similarly, the Allende meteorite, a rocky type, has been essential in providing information about the age of our solar system.


While most meteorites come from the asteroid belt, there are theories suggesting more distant origins. A hypothesis proposed by Dr. Nieto from the Autonomous University of Sinaloa suggests that Bacubirito might have originated in Alpha Centauri, the star closest to the Sun, located 4.1 light-years away, rather than "millions" as previously mentioned. This hypothesis, although intriguing, requires further research for confirmation.


Journey through Space


As meteorites traverse vast space, they undergo transformations that help decode the duration of their journey. These transformations can be detected using various techniques and studies. For instance, prolonged exposure to galactic cosmic rays can alter the isotopic composition of certain elements in the meteorite. By analyzing these changes, scientists can estimate the time since the meteorite separated from its parent body. Additionally, space erosion and thermal "scars" can provide clues about the environments the meteorite encountered during its journey.


However, determining a meteorite's specific origin and charting its complete trajectory is a complex task requiring meticulous research and advanced technologies. Therefore, approaching these studies with an interdisciplinary focus and leveraging all available tools and knowledge in meteoritics is crucial.


The Impact


When studying meteoritic impacts, it's vital to recognize their potentially catastrophic consequences. Although pinpointing a meteorite's exact fall time and place can be challenging, there are telltale signs: a bright trajectory in the sky, a rumble caused by supersonic waves, and subtle vibrations detected by geological sensors. A prime example of such an impact led to the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction. A meteorite, approximately 10 km in diameter, collided in the Yucatán Peninsula, forming the renowned Chicxulub crater.


Regarding the Bacubirito meteorite, several theories have been posited about its origin and trajectory. One suggests that the meteorite might have been displaced from another location on the planet, dragged by landslides during the thawing of a glacial era. This theory is supported by observations of huge rock displacement patterns in previously glacier-covered areas. Another aspect to consider is the meteorite potentially fragmenting into several parts upon entering Earth's atmosphere. The presence of a distinct cut on one of its sides might attest to this event, suggesting other pieces could have fallen into the sea or nearby areas.


The finding of Bacubirito


A pivotal moment in a meteorite's history is its finding on Earth, representing its fourth and final age. Such is the case for the Bacubirito meteorite, serendipitously found by a farmer near Camichín, a location about 10 km from the village of Bacubirito. This discovery drew the attention of Ing. Mariano Bárcenas, a prominent 19th-century Mexican scientist. He not only spread the news but also categorized it as one of the world's most imposing meteorites due to its remarkable dimensions and weight.


Ing. Mariano Bárcenas' role in promoting and safeguarding meteorites was transformative. His far-reaching vision acknowledged the scientific and cultural significance of these celestial travelers. His tireless efforts ensured meteorites were not only recognized but also valued as living testimonies to the vast cosmos. Together with him, Ing. Antonio del Castillo Patiño, who shared a common passion and purpose, played a key role in this movement. With a united vision, they sought to have these treasured celestial objects declared as inalienable national heritage. Yet their mission went beyond mere legal protection. They collaborated to establish protocols ensuring each discovered meteorite's correct categorization and study.


The Bárcenas-Castillo duo didn't confine themselves to the realm of research. They recognized the need to bring these discoveries to the general public. They championed outreach campaigns, talks, and exhibits so that people could appreciate, understand, and feel part of the marvelous world of meteorites. Their legacy, therefore, is not limited solely to the scientific realm; they left an indelible mark on Mexican education and culture, showing that science and knowledge are ultimately for the benefit and enjoyment of all.


Final Remarks


In conclusion, meteorites are fascinating testimonials of the vastness of the cosmos, bearers of stories that transcend time and space. Mexico, with its rich collection of these stellar travelers, has made significant contributions to the global understanding of these phenomena and, by extension, the universe in which we live. The visionary work of figures such as Eng. Mariano Bárcenas and Eng. Antonio del Castillo Patiño has been instrumental in this process. Their effort to recognize, protect, and spread the significance of these meteorites has left not only a scientific legacy but also a cultural one, reminding us of the interconnectedness between Earth and the vast cosmos that surrounds us.


Emiliano Terán

References


  1. Terán, E., Abundis-Patiño, J.H., Añorve, C., et al. (2017). On a Novel Geometric Analysis of the Bacubirito Meteorite. Earth Moon Planets, 120, 101-111. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11038-017-9507-8

  2. Terán, E., & others. (2018). Bacubirito: the longest meteorite in the world. Astronomy & Geophysics, 59(2), 2.30-2.31. https://doi.org/10.1093/astrogeo/aty084

  3. Terán, E. (2019). Bacubirito: An Outstanding Cosmic Sample on Earth. In A. Pepe & Q. Zhao (Eds.), Geospatial Analyses of Earth Observation (EO) data (pp. 110-120). IntechOpen. DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.88831


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