Planetary Body Odors

Planetary Body Odors
A smell emanating from a Norton County meteorite gives this author some idea how an asteroid would smell if it had an atmosphere.

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This has to be one of my more unusual “Findings”!
This “finding” involves the smell of a meteorite, which I’m discovering is a very difficult subject to write about and explain. Certainly can’t rely on images to help explain how my meteorite smells.
But, if I am right, this “meteorite-smell” is what I believe an asteroid would smell like, if you were able to envelope the parent-body in an oxygen atmosphere.
The image above depicts one of my specimens of the Norton County (Aubrite), a fragmental impact-brecciated enstatite achondrite. This image also depicts the plastic bag which contained this meteorite specimen ever since it was first extracted from one of the large masses of Norton County by researchers at University of New Mexico (UNM).

All of the following images are of this same specimen.

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It is this specimen, as well as, other similar-looking samples that are contained in similar sample bags, that appear to be giving off a peculiar odor. These plastic sample bags seem to have preserved whatever is producing the smell emanating from the meteorite specimens. This odor has been accumulating in these plastice bags undisturbed for what I have been told is “many years”!

Although the geneology is still somewhat sketchy for this fragment, it is clear that this sample was bagged & tagged by UNM Institute of Meteoritics personnel immediately after it was extracted from a large mass of the Norton County meteorite. They labeled the bag with a “Norton County N.15969” catalog number, which can be found on-line on the UNM website for “Institute of Meteoritics (IOM) Meteorite Catalog – Specimen Query Results for NORTON COUNTY (Found 18 February 1948) Kansas, USA.

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The smell that is being given off by this meteorite is hard to describe. When I first smelt it, I tried to think of the proper words to describe the odor. I tried to think of things that had a similar smell:
like hot metal, or like a cast-iron skillet that has over-heated, or like the metal filaments when you first turn on an electric heater.
Also, a lot like when you make sparks by striking two flint-rocks against each other.
Maybe a little like ozone, but with a more smoky, sulfurous aroma.

That’s when the phrase “burnt gunpowder” came into my mind.

And that’s when I remembered reading that the Apollo astronauts reported that moondust had the strong smell of “spent gunpowder”. They would notice this after conducting EVA and after returning to the Lunar Lander where the moondust that clung to their space-suits had apparently reacted with the oxygen and moisture in the pressurized cabin to produce this odor. I say “apparently” because to this day NASA still does not have an adequate explanation for this phenomenon. But to this very day, astronauts and cosmonauts still remark about the ozone-like smell that lingers on their space-suits after returning from a space-walk outside the ISS.
In fact, an Iranian woman cosmonaut said that “space smells like a burnt almond cookie“!
(Probably each person would have their own, personal description of this odor.)
And NASA is actually trying to recreate this odor in order to train and prepare their future lunar astronauts for when they return to the Moon!

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Although NASA has yet to provide a proven explanation for how moondust generated this “burnt gunpowder” smell, they have proposed a couple interesting theories:
One explanation is that the Lunar Lander’s oxygen atmosphere literally “burns” the moondust. Because oxygen is very reactive it could actually chemically bond with the moondust. This process is nothing more than oxidation, and is the same thing as “burning”, but it happens too slowly for smoke or flames to be produced, yet the oxidation of moondust might produce an aroma like “burnt gunpowder”.

Another explanation involves how moondust is actually formed. When meteoroids hit the moon, they reduce rocks to jagged dust. This is a process of constant hammering and smashing (see image below).
Over time, molecular bonds in the moondust are broken, producing “dangling bonds” – which are unsatisfied electrical connections that need atomic partners. When astronauts inhaled moondust, what happened was those dangling bonds sought “partners” in the moist membranes of the nose. When this happened, the astronaut’s sense of smell would respond by registering this “chemical reaction” to the brain as being “a strange odor” .

Moondust is formed by pounding; the “hammers” are meteoroids.
Image credit: Prof. Larry Taylor, University of Tennessee.

What all of this has to do with why there is an odor emanating from my Norton County specimens is this:
I see a connection between – how the pulverizing of moonrock by meteoroids produces this odor in moondust – with the brecciation and production of impact melt in the parent body of the Norton County meteorite!
I found that this odor was only prevalent in the most brecciated specimens where dark-colored impact melt had infused with the light-colored breccia clasts of the enstatite achondrite.

What this means is that this odor (along with the brecciation) is an ancient record of the impact event that occurred on that planetary body.
This means that these meteorite specimens are also samples of the same odors from space that, up until now, only astronauts were able to smell.

This is all made possible because of:
the large size of the individual masses from the Norton County fall, as well as
the prompt recovery of these masses from this fall, and more importantly
the prompt placement of the brecciated specimens into plastic bags.
All of this served to protect this “odor” and to minimize its contact with atmospheric moisture and oxygen.

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“Click” the above image to ENLARGE!!

I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity to “smell space”!
I found it difficult, but I’ve tried to convey in words what it is that I am personally experiencing when I smell my specimens. But this experience would be unique for each person, and probably would be described differently and uniquely by each person.
Although this smell emanating from my Norton County specimens is the result of the brecciation of an enstatite achondrite, I doubt that the pulverized anorthosite on the moon has a much different smell. So, I feel that I now have something in common with the NASA astronauts and can better appreciate, if not their visual and aural, at least their nasal experiences while they were on the moon and while traveling thru space.



References:

  • Carancas impact event – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Location in the Puno Region in Peru where the meteorite struck.16°39’52?S …. such as a local gas explosion, because meteorites don’t give off odors.”
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carancas_impact_event

  • Antarctic Meteorite Newsletter 24,1 – Petrographic Descriptions

    February 2001 The entire exterior surface of this carbonaceous chondrite is covered with thick black fusion crust with polygonal fractures. The interior is black, earthy material with a sulfurous odor. This meteorite has an oxidation rind and rust halos. Thin Section (, 4) Description: Tim McCoy;
    curator.jsc.nasa.gov/antmet/amn/amnfeb01/petdes.htm
  • Is The Abee Meteorite A Remnant From Mercury? | Life Info Zone.com

    Sep 3, 2009 In fact, if you were to cut open a piece of Abee meteorite, you would like encounter a smell that is like discharged gun powder;
    www.lifeinfozone.com/…/is-the-abee-meteorite-a-remnant-from-mercury/

    Search Results – for “astronauts smell gunpowder odor”

    1. The Mysterious Smell of Moondust – NASA Science

      Apr 5, 2010 It’s nothing like gunpowder. So why the smell? No one knows. Apollo astronauts were specific. Moondust smells like burnt gunpowder.)
      science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at…/30jan_smellofmoondust/

    2. The Smell of Moondust | Universe Today

      Jan 30, 2006 Apollo astronauts were specific. Moondust smells like burnt gunpowder.) Curiously, back on Earth, moondust has no smell.
      www.universetoday.com/11314/the-smell-of-moondust/Cached
    3. The Mysterious Smell of Moondust

      Schmitt says, “All of the Apollo astronauts were used to handling guns. It’s nothing like gunpowder. So why the smell? No one knows. ISS astronaut Don
      www.ufodigest.com/moondust.htmlCachedSimilar
    4. Moon Dust Smells Like Spent Gunpowder

      Apr 23, 2010 So this might produce this burning gunpowder smell. Jack Schmitt, an Apollo 17 astronaut and geologist, has the distinction of being the
      www.todayifoundout.com/…/moon-dust-smells-like-spent-gunpowder/Cached
    5. fired gun shot on the moon? says Apollo – BigFishTackle.Mobi

      Apollo astronauts were specific. Moondust smells like burnt gunpowder.) Curiously, back on Earth, moondust has no smell. There are hundreds of pounds of
      www.bigfishtackle.mobi/cgi-bin/bigfish.cgi?post=241370Cached
    6. The Mysterious Smell of Moondust – Space News – redOrbit

      Jan 31, 2006 (Note: Burnt and unburnt gunpowder do not smell the same. Apollo astronauts were specific. Moondust smells like burnt gunpowder.)
      www.redorbit.com/news/space/375271/the…smell_of…/index.htmlCached
    7. Space, the final frontier of smells! | Ask MetaFilter

      Jan 28, 2004 I’ve read that the Apollo astronauts smelled something from moondust: the initial smell, was a smell like gunpowder a little bit.
      ask.metafilter.com/4967/Space-the-final-frontier-of-smellsCached

      Get more discussion results

    8. Moondust Smells Like

      Jan 22, 2009 Sniff it—”it smells like spent gunpowder,” says Cernan. How do you sniff moondust? Every Apollo astronaut did it. They couldn’t touch their
      www.docstoc.com › Current EventsCurrent AffairsCached
    9. Smell of Gunpowder

      6 posts – 6 authors – Last post: Sep 9, 2006

      I happen to be in the group liking the smell of burnt gunpowder. where the author stated that the Apollo 11 astronauts were armed.
      lofi.forum.physorg.com/Smell-of-Gunpowder_4813.htmlCached

      Get more discussion results

    10. Retro Thing: The Scent of Moondust

      Oct 3, 2006 Almost 34 years ago, Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan succinctly summed up the scent of moondust: “It smells like spent gunpowder.
      www.retrothing.com/2006/10/the_smell_of_mo.htmlCached
    11. Space – Retro Thing

      Almost 34 years ago, Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan succinctly summed up the scent of moondust: “It smells like spent gunpowder.” It turns out that the
      www.retrothing.com/space/page/2/Cached
    12. Astronaut describes what space smells like – Boing Boing

      Feb 20, 2008 The smell is probably a combination of stuff that has been outgassed by One of the Apollo astronauts (I forget which one) said that when the told is sort of like a mix of gunpowder and alcohol or maybe gasoline.
      boingboing.net/2008/02/20/astronaut-describes.htmlCachedSimilar
    13. New Mars • View topic – Mars Smells?

      11 posts – 5 authors – Last post: May 18, 2004

      P.S.: Actually, I always sort of liked the smell of “spent gunpowder” from a shotgun; it’s a very unique odor (I used to accompany my father
      www.newmars.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=2925Cached

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    14. Three Squirrels in a Pressure Cooker » The Smell of our Moon

      Feb 6, 2006 “It is really a strong smell,” radioed Apollo 16 pilot Charlie Duke. “It has that taste — to me, [of] gunpowder — and the smell of gunpowder, too. Schmitt says, “All of the Apollo astronauts were used to handling
      www.threesquirrels.com/?p=203CachedSimilar
    15. Althouse: “Space smells like a ‘burned almond cookie.'”

      Sep 28, 2006 I was thrown for a minute, because A. Space would have no smell, at least not one that the human nose could detect and B. If it Well, the Apollo astronauts reported that fresh moon dust smells like burned gunpowder.
      althouse.blogspot.com/…/space-smells-like-burned-almond-cookie.htmlCached

    16. Sulfur Deposits May Make Mars Stink

      While it gives off an unpleasant odor and can stir up a headache, several Apollo astronauts noticed they had tracked back into their the smell was likened to wet ashes in a fireplace, even spent gunpowder from a just fired
      www.rense.com/general50/stinks.htmCachedSimilar

    17. Astronaut Says He Wasn’t Prepared for Smell of Space

      31 posts – 6 authors – Last post: Sep 6, 2009

      Re: Astronaut Says He Wasn’t Prepared for Smell of Space, Quote. The Apollo crews spoke of the Moon smelling like gunpowder. Gunpowder is a
      www.godlikeproductions.com/forum1/message874737/pg1Cached

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    18. United States Astronaut Hall of Fame, Titusville, Florida

      It is a hall of fame PLUS an extensive collection of Astronaut (carried back on Apollo 15); and some unappetizing examples of Soviet space food. “Moon Smell” display, which attempts to recreate the gunpowder odor of moon dust.

      www.roadsideamerica.com/story/14389CachedSimilar
    19. Artworks to Show – Page 15 – All Metal Forums

      Aug 29, 2010 “It has that taste — to me, [of] gunpowder — and the smell of Schmitt says, “All of the Apollo astronauts were used to handling guns.
      www.allmetalforums.com/forums/showthread.php?p=672448Cached
    20. Apollo:The Right Stuff

      OTHERWORLDLY ODOR. When the astronauts took off their helmets inside the LM in a fireplace” and Buzz as “spent gunpowder”. It was the smell of moondust.
      www.weirdload.com/apollo.htmlCachedSimilar
    21. Fogonazos: Top 10 coolest facts about space missions

      All of the Apollo astronauts said moondust smell like burnt gunpowder. Curiously, back on Earth, moondust has no smell. There are hundreds of pounds of
      www.fogonazos.es/2007/11/top-10-coolest-facts-about-space.htmlCached
    22. Smell of space is funny, say Discovery pilots | TopNews

      Mar 29, 2009 Buy Apollo Tyres With Target Of Rs 81 · Sensex Gains 116 Pts In Noon According to ex-NASA astronaut Thomas Jones, a veteran of three adding that the smell is also similar to burnt gunpowder or the ozone smell of electrical equipment. The suit smells like plastic inside,” he added.
      www.topnews.in/smell-space-funny-say-discovery-pilots-2145051Cached
    23. Dust-busting, Lunar Style

      Mar 26, 2007 Apollo astronaut Eugene Cernan, after an encounter with lunar dust. Some astronauts reported smells of caldron, a gunpowder sort of smell, as soon as they went they started smelling these oxidation type smells.
      www.astrobio.net/interview/2281/dust-busting-lunar-styleCached
    24. Apollo 11 Moon landing: ten facts about Armstrong, Aldrin and

      Jul 18, 2009 When the astronauts took off their helmets after their moonwalk, they noticed a strong smell, which Armstrong described as “wet ashes in a
      www.telegraph.co.uk/…/Apollo-11-Moon-landing-ten-facts-about-Armstrong-Aldrin-and-Collins-mission.htmlSimilarAdd to iGoogle
    25. SpikedHumor.com » Space Smells Like Fried Steak & Hot Metal

      Oct 18, 2008 “We have a few clues as to what space smells like. …. The moon also had a smell, as reported by the Apollo astonauts…like spent
      www.spikedhumor.com/…/Space-Smells-Like-Fried-Steak-Hot-Metal.html
    26. Houghton Mifflin Science: Cricket Connections

      No, Apollo astronauts used special rakes to collect Moon dirt. And it has a smell very few people, if any, have smelled on the Earth. It smells something like spent gunpowder, like you’ve just fired a shotgun or something and you
      www.eduplace.com/science/hmsc/3/d/…/cktcontent_3d.shtmlCachedSimilar
    27. Review: Moonbase Alpha

      Jul 11, 2010 All that’s missing from this lunar experience is that gunpowdersmell of regolith the Apollo astronauts reported when they returned to their
      www.pars3c.com/2010/07/11/review-moonbase-alpha/Cached
    28. Conspiracy Journal #456

      Feb 15, 2008 (Note: Burnt and unburnt gunpowder do not smell the same. Apollo astronauts were specific. Moondust smells like burnt gunpowder.)
      uforeview.tripod.com/conspiracyjournal456.htmlCached
    29. What does the moon smell like? – Ask Jeeves Search

      According to Apollo astronauts, it smells a lot like gunpowder. … Once their helmets and gloves Natural Gas Odor Smell. Popular Question Categories
      uk.ask.com/qotd?…smellUnited KingdomCached
    30. 77 Out-of-This-World Facts about the Moon

      Jun 5, 2010 Moon dust is said to smell like spent gunpowder.g Only 12 people have been on the moon: the astronauts on the Apollo missions from 1969 to 1972.h g “The Mysterious Smell of Moondust.” NASA. January 30, 2006.
      facts.randomhistory.com/moon-facts.html

      Search Results – for “odor from meteorites”

      1. Meteorite Man’ Wants Chunk of Canada Meteorite | World | Epoch Times

        Dec 2, 2008 Most meteorites smell like sulphur, says Haag, but there are some that have the odor of starter fluid. These are extremely rare and provide
        www.theepochtimes.com › WorldInternationalCachedSimilar
      2. Cosmic Log – Sparks fly over meteorite

        Oct 10, 2007 Michael Farmer Meteorite hunter Michael Farmer kneels at the rim of a “I’m sure there was a heavy sulfur smell. That is not abnormal.
        cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2007/10/…/406411.aspxCachedSimilar
      3. The Comics Curmudgeon » I love the smell of meteorite strikes in

        I love the smell of meteorite strikes in the morning. Gasoline Alley, 7/27/07. For the last several years — or, oh, let’s say decades — Gasoline Alley has
        joshreads.com/?p=1179Cached
      4. Re: [meteorite-list] Carancas: Arsenic smell ?

        Re: [meteorite-list] Carancas: Arsenic smell ? Dave Gheesling Thu, 19 Mar 2009 21:35:27 -0700. Darren/All, The thinner atmosphere on Mars — and the lower
        www.mail-archive.com/meteorite-list@meteoritecentral…/msg72338.htmlCached
      5. Re: [meteorite-list] Carancas: Arsenic smell ?

        Re: [meteorite-list] Carancas: Arsenic smell ? Jeff Kuyken Thu, 19 Mar 2009 23:12:12 -0700. Hi Dave,. I believe fusion crust is created not only by the heat
        www.mail-archive.com/meteorite-list@meteoritecentral…/msg72344.htmlCached
      6. Blackholes and astrostuff: The Saskatchewan (Buzzard Coulee) Meteorite

        Jan 22, 2009 The meteor has a smell? Really? “I’m about to smell it again, excuse me,………………., okay I’m back, awesome.” – LOL LOL LOL awesome!
        blackholesandastrostuff.blogspot.com/…/saskatchewan-buzzard-coulee-meteorite.htmlCachedSimilar
      7. Meteorites Guerlain Perfume, a women’s fragrance (2000)

        meteorites is a nice, even if simple and somewhat linear, scent of powdered iris and violets – or to be more precise, the smell of the face powder in a
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      8. Meteorite crash landing causes a stir in Peru – Travel – LATimes.com

        Sep 21, 2007 Peru investigates meteorite said to be causing sickness · Arizona’s Meteor Crater: A “But there was this terrible smell, really strong,
        travel.latimes.com/…/la-trw-meteorite-causes-a-stir-in-peru21sep07CachedSimilar
      9. Boy Hit by Meteorite Traveling at 30000 MPH (I smell conspiracy

        This thread has been pulled. Okay.
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      10. Has the meteorite brought new disease to Earth? | Opinion

        Sep 24, 2007 He said it’s highly unlikely for a meteorite to smell like lead or silver. These substances exist in meteorites in negligible amounts,
        en.rian.ru/analysis/20070924/80570359.htmlCached
      11. Peruvian Meteorite Still Puzzling Scientists – Science News

        Sep 24, 2007 But Ishitsuka said he doubts reports of a sulfurous smell. Meteor expert Ursula Marvin said that if people were sickened, “it wouldn’t be
        www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,297610,00.htmlCachedSimilar
      12. Black helicopters circle ‘Welsh Roswell’ • The Register Forums

        Aug 23, 2010 Yep, I’ve played with meteorites of all types and whilst they are insanely cool, they don’t smell of sulfur. In fact they don’t smell at all
        forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2010/08/23/welsh_roswell/Cached
      13. Murchison Meteorite– What A Fireball Over Australia Might Tell Us

        Apr 2, 2009 stones were found they were still warm and had a smoky, aromatic smell. The smoky aroma hinted that there was more to this meteorite
        www.science20.com/…/murchison_meteorite_what_fireball_over_australia_might_tell_us_about_origin_lifeCached
      14. Meteorite Mayhem Part II: Maybe Missile Mayhem? | Bad Astronomy

        Sep 20, 2007 I said it didn’t sound like a meteorite; in fact, the impacts reported That would explain the foul smell and the release of methane and
        blogs.discovermagazine.com/…/meteorite-mayhem-part-ii-maybe-missile-mayhem/CachedSimilar
      15. PSRD: Interstellar Organic Matter in Meteorites

        May 26, 2006 Gunky Meteorites. Some carbonaceous chondrites smell. They contain volatile compounds that slowly give off chemicals with a distinctive
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      16. The Accretion Desk – Meteorite Times Magazine Articles

        By any other word would smell as sweet.” Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2). Had the Rose City meteorite fallen 16 years earlier, its name could have been much
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      17. HowStuffWorks “Meteor Strike in Peru”

        Sep 25, 2007 A meteor strike in Peru may have made up to 600 people sick, for several minutes after impact and that a smell of sulfur filled the air.
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      18. Meteorites Petrified Wood Roadside Attraction in Arizona

        Sep 22, 2009 I want to smell that smell, you know, that smell from the pine trees,” 3 User Submitted Responses to “Meteorite Hunters and Desert Rats”
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      19. Contagious Fear: Mass Sociogenic Smell Weapon | Danger Room

        Jan 28, 2008 However, US meteorite hunter Michael Farmer soon arrived on the scene and confirmed “The smell was caused by triolite, an iron sulphide,
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      20. What to do if you find a meteorite? [Archive] – Bad Astronomy and

        Sep 29, 2003 If you find a rock you think might be a meteorite, there are several places to get …. I smell a hoax! It was their grandpa’s Model T Ford,
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      21. Is The Abee Meteorite A Remnant From Mercury? | Life Info Zone.com

        Sep 3, 2009 In fact, if you were to cut open a piece of Abee meteorite, you would like encounter a smell that is like discharged gun powder;
        www.lifeinfozone.com/…/is-the-abee-meteorite-a-remnant-from-mercury/Cached
      22. Guerlain Meteorites Giant Butterfly Pearls – W 2008 reviews

        Guerlain Meteorites Giant Butterfly Pearls – W 2008 was rated 4.7 out of I love the smell and I think the container is pretty when sitting on my vanity.
        www.makeupalley.com/product/…asp/…/Meteorites…/Highlighters
      23. Brazil Meteor Fireball Produces Meteorites — Signs of the Times News

        He commented that the air had a “strong smell of iron”. The meteorite appears to be an ordinary chondrite with both primary and secondary fusion crust.
        www.sott.net/…/210962-Brazil-Meteor-Fireball-Produces-MeteoritesCached
      24. Meteorites in Iowa’s History

        Rock fragments showered an eight square-mile area, and local residents reported a smell of sulphur. As with Iowa’s other meteorites, fragments now are
        www.igsb.uiowa.edu/Browse/meteor/meteor.htmCached
      25. Society for Popular Astronomy :: View topic – Possible Meteorite

        12 posts – 7 authors – Last post: Nov 26, 2005

        She emphasised the smell and characterised it as a little like the smell Ordinary small meteorites, maybe up to a metre or two in size
        www.popastro.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=1449CachedSimilar

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      26. Meteorite Strike – from Usborne Publishing

        In 2000, a meteor caused two sonic booms and a foul smell in the air in the Yukon Territory, Canada. A NASA aircraft flew through the debris, searching for
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      27. Police: Meteor falls on beach – Israel News, Ynetnews

        Apr 24, 2010 Another lifeguard, Yossi Mizrahi, said: “The meteorite kept on burning and gave off an odd smell. It kept on burning even when we put it in
        www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3880008,00.htmlCached
      28. Meteor Crash in Peru Caused Mysterious Illness

        Sep 21, 2007 Locals described the meteorite as a bright, fiery ball with a smoke trail. The sound and smell rattled residents to the point that they
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      29. If There Ever Was… a book of extinct and impossible smells, by

        Oct 23, 2008 Mark Buxton recreated the smell of the Peruvian meteorite; I can’t say what he did exactly, but I assume he left out the foul smell of
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      30. » Meteorite Is Making People Sick In A Peruvian Village Dvorak

        Sep 18, 2007 That sounds more like a volcanic vent than a meteorite. A volcanic vent would explain the smell and other symptoms.
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      Video: Fiery Meteorite Falls on Israeli Beach
      Another lifeguard, Yossi Mizrahi, said: “The meteorite kept on burning and gave off an odd smell. It kept on burning even when we put it in the water and it melted seashells as if they were candles.”

      Dream comes true with meteorite find
      Kevin Meade – July 14, 2006 – Verified: David Elliott with the 17kg meteorite
      It took him more than two years to locate them, but the two meteorites western Queensland grazier David Elliott found on his property are further proof that he has an uncanny knack for spotting rare rocks.

      My previous articles can be found *HERE*

      For for more information, please contact me by email: Bolide*chaser

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    About the Author

    Robert Verish
    Bob is a retired aerospace engineer living in Southern California, and has been recovering meteorites from the Southwest U.S. Deserts since 1995.
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