Allende meteorite
The Allende meteorite is the largest carbonaceous chondrite
Carbonaceous chondrite
Carbonaceous chondrites or C chondrites are a class of chondritic meteorites comprising at least 7 known groups and many ungrouped meteorites. They include some of the most primitive known meteorites...

 ever found on Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

. The fireball was witnessed at 1:05 a.m. on February 8, 1969, falling over the Mexican state of Chihuahua. After breaking up in the atmosphere
Earth's atmosphere
The atmosphere of Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention , and reducing temperature extremes between day and night...

, an extensive search for pieces was conducted and it is often described as "the best-studied meteorite
A meteorite is a natural object originating in outer space that survives impact with the Earth's surface. Meteorites can be big or small. Most meteorites derive from small astronomical objects called meteoroids, but they are also sometimes produced by impacts of asteroids...

 in history". The Allende meteorite is notable for possessing abundant, large calcium-aluminium-rich inclusions, which are among the oldest objects formed in the Solar System
Solar System
The Solar System consists of the Sun and the astronomical objects gravitationally bound in orbit around it, all of which formed from the collapse of a giant molecular cloud approximately 4.6 billion years ago. The vast majority of the system's mass is in the Sun...


Carbonaceous chondrites comprise about 4 percent of all meteorites observed to fall from space. Prior to 1969, the carbonaceous chondrite class was known from a small number of uncommon meteorites such as Orgueil, which fell in France in 1864. Meteorites similar to Allende were known, but many were small and poorly studied.


The original stone is believed to have been approximately the size of an automobile traveling towards the Earth at more than 10 miles per second. The fall occurred in the early morning hours of February 8, 1969. At 1:05 a.m., a huge, brilliant fireball approached from the southwest and lit the sky and ground for hundreds of miles. It exploded and broke up to produce thousands of fusion crusted individuals. This is typical of falls of large stones through the atmosphere and is due to the sudden braking effect of air resistance. The fall took place in northern Mexico, near the village of Pueblito de Allende in the state of Chihuahua. Allende stones became one of the most widely distributed meteorites and provided a large amount of material to study, far more than all of the previously known carbonaceous chondrite falls combined.


Stones were scattered over a huge area – one of the largest meteorite strewnfields known. This strewnfield measures approximately 8 by 50 kilometers. The region is desert, mostly flat, with sparse to moderate low vegetation. Hundreds of meteorites were collected shortly after the fall. Approximately 2 or 3 tons of specimens were collected over a period of more than 25 years. Some sources guess that an even larger amount was recovered (estimates as high as 5 tons can be found), but there is no way to make an accurate estimate. Even today, over 40 years later, specimens are still occasionally found. Fusion crusted individual Allende specimens ranged from 1 gram to 110 kilograms.


Allende is often called "the best-studied meteorite in history." There are several reasons for this: Allende fell in early 1969, just months before the Apollo program was to return the first moon rocks. This was a time of great excitement and energy among planetary scientists. The field was attracting many new workers and laboratories were being improved. As a result, the scientific community was immediately ready to study the new meteorite. A number of museums launched expeditions to Mexico to collect samples, including the Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute and associated museum complex, administered and funded by the government of the United States and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from its retail operations, concessions, licensing activities, and magazines...

 and together they collected hundreds of kilograms of material with CAIs. The CAIs are billions of years old, and help to determine the age of the solar system. The CAIs had very unusual isotopic
Isotopes are variants of atoms of a particular chemical element, which have differing numbers of neutrons. Atoms of a particular element by definition must contain the same number of protons but may have a distinct number of neutrons which differs from atom to atom, without changing the designation...

 compositions, with many being distinct from the Earth, Moon and other meteorites for a wide variety of isotopes. These "isotope anomalies" contain evidence for processes that occurred in other stars before the solar system formed.

Allende contains chondrules and CAIs that are estimated to be 4.567 billion years old, the oldest known matter (other carbonaceous chondrites also contain these). This material is 30 million years older than the Earth and 287 million years older than the oldest rock known on Earth, Thus, the Allende meteorite has revealed information about conditions prevailing during the early formation of our solar system. Carbonaceous chondrites, including Allende, are the most primitive meteorites, and contain the most primitive known matter. They have undergone the least mixing and remelting since the early stages of solar system formation. Because of this, their age is frequently taken as the "age of the solar system."


The meteorite was formed from nebular dust and gas during the early formation of the solar system. It is a "stone" meteorite, as opposed to an "iron," or "stony iron," the other two general classes of meteorite. Most Allende stones are covered, in part or in whole, by a black, shiny crust created as the stone descended at great speed through the atmosphere as it was falling towards the earth from space. This causes the exterior of the stone to become very hot, melting it, and forming a glassy "fusion crust."

When an Allende stone is sawed into two pieces and the surface is polished, the structure in the interior can be examined. This reveals a dark matrix embedded throughout with mm-sized, lighter-colored chondrules, tiny stony spherules found only in meteorites and not in earth rock (thus it is a chondritic
Chondrites are stony meteorites that have not been modified due to melting or differentiation of the parent body. They formed when various types of dust and small grains that were present in the early solar system accreted to form primitive asteroids...

 meteorite). Also seen are white inclusions, up to several cm in size, ranging in shape from spherical to highly irregular or "amoeboidal." These are known as calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions or "CAIs", so named because they are dominantly composed of calcium- and aluminum-rich silicate
A silicate is a compound containing a silicon bearing anion. The great majority of silicates are oxides, but hexafluorosilicate and other anions are also included. This article focuses mainly on the Si-O anions. Silicates comprise the majority of the earth's crust, as well as the other...

 and oxide
An oxide is a chemical compound that contains at least one oxygen atom in its chemical formula. Metal oxides typically contain an anion of oxygen in the oxidation state of −2....

 minerals. Like many chondrites, Allende is a breccia
Breccia is a rock composed of broken fragments of minerals or rock cemented together by a fine-grained matrix, that can be either similar to or different from the composition of the fragments....

, and contains many dark-colored clasts or "dark inclusions" which have a chondritic structure that is distinct from the rest of the meteorite. Unlike many other chondrites, Allende is almost completely lacking in Fe-Ni metal
A metal , is an element, compound, or alloy that is a good conductor of both electricity and heat. Metals are usually malleable and shiny, that is they reflect most of incident light...



The matrix and the chondrule
Chondrules are round grains found in chondrites. Chondrules form as molten or partially molten droplets in space before being accreted to their parent asteroids...

s consist of many different minerals, predominantly olivine and pyroxene. Allende is classified as a CV3 carbonaceous chondrite: the chemical composition, which is rich in refractory
A refractory material is one that retains its strength at high temperatures. ASTM C71 defines refractories as "non-metallic materials having those chemical and physical properties that make them applicable for structures, or as components of systems, that are exposed to environments above...

 elements like calcium, aluminum, and titanium, and poor in relatively volatile
In planetary science, volatiles are that group of chemical elements and chemical compounds with low boiling points that are associated with a planet's or moon's crust and/or atmosphere. Examples include nitrogen, water, carbon dioxide, ammonia, hydrogen, and methane, all compounds of C, H, O...

 elements like sodium and potassium, places it in the CV group, and the lack of secondary heating effects is consistent with petrologic type 3 (see meteorites classification
Meteorites classification
The ultimate goal of meteorite classification is to group all meteorite specimens that share a common origin on a single, identifiable parent body. This could be a planet, asteroid, Moon, or other current Solar System object, or one that existed some time in the past...

). Like most carbonaceous chondrites and all CV chondrites, Allende is enriched in the oxygen isotope
Isotopes are variants of atoms of a particular chemical element, which have differing numbers of neutrons. Atoms of a particular element by definition must contain the same number of protons but may have a distinct number of neutrons which differs from atom to atom, without changing the designation...

 O-16 relative to the less abundant isotopes, O-17 and O-18.

There was found to be a small amount of carbon (including graphite and diamond), and many organic compounds, including amino acids, some not known on Earth. Iron, mostly combined, makes up about 24% of the meteorite.

Subsequent research

Close examination of the chondrules in 1971, by a team from Case Western Reserve University
Case Western Reserve University
Case Western Reserve University is a private research university located in Cleveland, Ohio, USA...

, revealed tiny black markings, up to 10 trillion per square centimeter, which were absent from the matrix and interpreted as evidence of radiation damage. Similar structures have turned up in lunar basalts but not in their terrestrial equivalent which would have been screened from cosmic radiation by the Earth's atmosphere and geomagnetic field. Thus it appears that the irradiation of the chondrules happened after they had solidified but before the cold accretion of matter that took place during the early stages of formation of the solar system, when the parent meteorite came together.

The discovery at California Institute of Technology
California Institute of Technology
The California Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering...

 in 1977 of new forms of the elements calcium
Calcium is the chemical element with the symbol Ca and atomic number 20. It has an atomic mass of 40.078 amu. Calcium is a soft gray alkaline earth metal, and is the fifth-most-abundant element by mass in the Earth's crust...

, barium
Barium is a chemical element with the symbol Ba and atomic number 56. It is the fifth element in Group 2, a soft silvery metallic alkaline earth metal. Barium is never found in nature in its pure form due to its reactivity with air. Its oxide is historically known as baryta but it reacts with...

 and neodymium
Neodymium is a chemical element with the symbol Nd and atomic number 60. It is a soft silvery metal that tarnishes in air. Neodymium was discovered in 1885 by the Austrian chemist Carl Auer von Welsbach. It is present in significant quantities in the ore minerals monazite and bastnäsite...

 in the meteorite was believed to show that those elements came from some source outside the early clouds of gas and dust that formed the solar system. This supports the theory that shockwaves from a supernova
A supernova is a stellar explosion that is more energetic than a nova. It is pronounced with the plural supernovae or supernovas. Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months...

 - the explosion of an aging star - may have triggered the formation of, or contributed to the formation of our solar system. As further evidence, the Caltech group said the meteorite contained Aluminum 26, a rare form of aluminum. This acts as a "clock" on the meteorite, dating the explosion of the supernova to within less than 2 million years before the solar system was formed. Subsequent studies have found isotopic ratios of krypton
Krypton is a chemical element with the symbol Kr and atomic number 36. It is a member of Group 18 and Period 4 elements. A colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas, krypton occurs in trace amounts in the atmosphere, is isolated by fractionally distilling liquified air, and is often used with other...

, xenon
Xenon is a chemical element with the symbol Xe and atomic number 54. The element name is pronounced or . A colorless, heavy, odorless noble gas, xenon occurs in the Earth's atmosphere in trace amounts...

, nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

 and other elements that are also unknown in our solar system. The conclusion, from many studies with similar findings, is that there were a lot of substances in the presolar disc that were introduced as fine "dust" from nearby stars, including novas, supernovas, and red giant
Red giant
A red giant is a luminous giant star of low or intermediate mass in a late phase of stellar evolution. The outer atmosphere is inflated and tenuous, making the radius immense and the surface temperature low, somewhere from 5,000 K and lower...

s. These specks persist to this day in meteorites like Allende, and are known as presolar grains
Presolar grains
Presolar grains are isotopically-distinct clusters of material found in the fine-grained matrix of primitive meteorites, such as chondrites, whose differences from the surrounding meteorite suggest that they are older than the solar system...


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