What is the Tagish Lake meteorite?

The ‘Tagish Lake’ meteorite fell on January 18, 2000 at approximately 8:43 a.m. PST. Its exceptionally long and bright fireball was seen throughout the Yukon, Northern British Columbia, parts of Alaska, and the Northwest Territories. A week later, on January 25, a resident of Atlin B.C., found meteorite fragments on the snow-covered ice of Tagish Lake and over the next two days collected several dozen more fragments. On the advice of the Geological Survey of Canada, the meteorite fragments were collected using gloves and the fragments were kept frozen at all times.

What is a meteorite?

Meteorites are rocks from outer space that have fallen to earth. Although meteorite falls occur every day around the world, the recovery of fragments is rare, since the falls are usually unwitnessed and/or the fragments land in remote, uninhabited areas or in bodies of water.

The Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) maintains the National Meteorite Collection of about 2,700 samples of 1,100 meteorites, identifies meteorites and supports research on them. It also offers to pay the owner a minimum of $500 for the first specimen of any new Canadian meteorite.

Why is studying meteorites important?

Meteorites are an invaluable source of information about outer space, and they have been used by scientists to learn about the universe since long before space travel was possible. Because most meteorites date from the origin of the Earth, 4.6 billion years ago, they provide clues about the nature and origin of our solar system and the interior of planets. Some are believed to be samples of the Moon and Mars or pieces of comets, but most are probably fragments of asteroids.

What is unique about the Tagish Lake meteorite?

Based on preliminary analyses of a few grams of the total find, the Tagish Lake meteorite may be the most primitive solar system material ever studied by science. It belongs to a rare and particularly fragile class of meteorites known as carbonaceous chondrites. It appears to have originated in the asteroid belt.

Why is the Tagish Lake meteorite so valuable?

The Tagish Lake meteorite is quite possibly the most significant meteorite fall in Canadian history. Primitive organic molecules have been found in the Tagish Lake meteorite, identifiable in part because it has not been contaminated by handling. In addition, because it has been kept frozen it could be the first meteorite in which extraterrestrial ice has been preserved.

This meteorite represents an unprecedented opportunity for Canada to enhance and develop Canadian expertise in the handling and analysis of extraterrestrial material, and for Canadian scientists to make an impact on the international planetary science scene. A consortium of researchers from among Canadian institutions in Government, University and Industry is required to maximize the scientific return from its study. Institutions outside Canada have already signalled their interest in working on these samples; international collaborations would benefit Canadian institutions and increase Canadian capacity and expertise in this area.