In late November, a meteorite fell to Earth and landed somewhere in the Australian Outback. Geologists worked for weeks to track it down, and finally located the 3.7-lb chunk on New Year’s Eve. Phil Bland, a professor and the team’s leader, dug it out of the ground by hand, just in time to save it from being washed away by an incoming storm. The team has now determined the meteorite is 4.5 billion years old, which is “older than Earth itself.”

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Bland and his team from Curtin University are known as the Desert Fireball Network. They use cameras, in concert with eyewitness reports and aerial searches, to trace the path of and locate meteorites. This particular artifact marks quite a find for the team. “The fact we have managed to retrieve the meteorite at all is remarkable,” mechatronic engineer and team member Dr Jonathan Paxman said in a statement. “Our people worked around the clock to reduce the data, enabling rapid recovery of something that would have been lost if we’d gotten there any later.”

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After studying the meteorite, researchers determined it traveled from farther away than Mars. Bland says the meteorite–thought to be a chondrite or stony meteorite–provided an example of material created during the early formation of the Solar System more than 4.5 billion years ago. He went on to explain how this discovery could lead to new information about the beginnings of our solar system. “We’ve got a lot more rocks on the ground,” said Bland. “This recovery will be the first of many–and every one of those meteorites will give us a unique window into the formation of the solar system.”

Via Time

Images via Desert Fireball Network