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Wednesday, December 17, 1997 Published at 19:23 GMT



Sci/Tech

It came from the skies
image: [ Satellite image of the impact. (Courtesy Dundee Satellite Receiving Station) ]
Satellite image of the impact. (Courtesy Dundee Satellite Receiving Station)


Martin Shankleman reports (3'27")
As fishermen minded their nets in the dull grey of a Greenland dawn, a blinding flash lit up the sky.

But this is no nativity tale, but the story of what could be one of the biggest meteorites to ever hit the Earth.


[ image: The meteorite fell near the town of Qaqortoq]
The meteorite fell near the town of Qaqortoq
Bjorn Ericksonn, the first mate on the trawler Regina, saw the object fall.

"I was on the bridge and looking out of the window, I have never seen so strong light before in the night," he said. "In the strongest part of the light, there looked like a circle that was burning."


Bjorn Ericksson describes what he saw (1'03")
Many people across the southern tip of Greenland saw the huge light in the early hours of Tuesday morning last week.

But no-one was able to photograph it as it glowed for between 2 and 5 seconds. However a closed circuit surveillance camera in a car park in the town of Nuuk did record the incredible brightening of the ambient light.


Professor Chandra Wickramasingha from Cardiff University (2'19")
Seismographic equipment recorded a 10 second shockwave. Scientists believe the early indications are that the meteorite could have measured between 50 and 100 metres across, and have been travelling at 7,600 mph.

This would put it on a par with the Tunguska meteorite which devastated hundreds of square miles of Siberia in 1908, when it exploded with the same energy as a 15 megatonne nuclear bomb.

The Danish airforce have sent up planes to look for the impact site. So far they have had little success because of appalling weather conditions.


Captain Mads Als of the Danish airforce (53")
"We will concentrate in the southern part of Greenland, we have a fishing vessel on the east coast, and he took a bearing where he thought it might have hit the ground," said Captain Mads Als of the Danish Airforce.


[ image:  ]
The search could be extremely hard. The meteorite would have been white hot when it hit the ground.

It would have melted its way into the pack ice, which would have then melted on top of it.

Just to make things more difficult, there was heavy snow in the hours after the impact, further obscuring the site.

"We don't have a radar on the aircraft which can look through the snow," said Captain Als. "So it's pretty much a visual observation."

The meteorite has been named Qaqortoq, after the nearest post office, which is apparantly traditional.






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Internet Links

Dundee Satellite Receiving Station

Holger Pederson from Copenhagen University

A Norwegian University's 'What is a meteor?' site

Meteoritical Society


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