Farmers Discover Rare Meteorite in Minnesota Corn Field

For 40 years, University of Minnesota professor Calvin Alexander has been contacted by people who think they've found meteorites. They call, write, and come in to the lab of the curator of meteorites with rocks they think, or hope, are from outer space. Over four decades, Alexander has seen about 5,000 "meteorwrongs" that turn out to be regular Earth rocks. Until now.

In April, Alexander was contacted by farmers Bruce and Nelva Lilienthal, who sent the professor photos of a peculiar stone they'd found a couple years ago while clearing their corn field in Arlington, Minn.

The rock, which is about 16 inches by 12 inches (40.6 centimeters by 30.5 cm) across, and about 2 inches (5 cm) thick, weighs a surprising 33 pounds (15 kg) — about three times more than a regular Earth rock of that size. Its weight, as well as its unusual flattened shape and rusty surface, immediately suggested it was special. "I said, 'That certainly looks like a meteorite, but I need to see it up close to tell for sure,'" Alexander recalled. [Gallery: See photos of the Lilienthals' meteorite]

On May 30, the couple brought their find to Alexander's lab and allowed him to chip 0.02 ounces (0.6 grams) off the edge of it for analysis under a scanning electron microscope. The rock was iron, and contained about 8 percent nickel — a telltale giveaway. Iron objects on Earth contain almost no nickel, but iron rocks from space are usually between 5 and 20 percent nickel. The microscope also revealed what's called a Widmanstätten pattern of nickel-iron crystals that's unique to meteorites.
To say that the revelation was welcome news would be a major understatement.

"I am about to retire at the end of next year, and this was the first real meteorite that's been brought in," Alexander told "Yes, ma'am, I was excited. I am still excited."
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