Serving The Meteorite Community Since 2002

The Chiang Khan Meteorite Fall: A Gift That Just Keeps Giving

At 5:30 in the morning on November 17, 1981, a fireball exploded high above the citizens Ban Klang and Chiang-Khan in the province of Loei in Thailand. Loud thunderous reports rolled across the land right before a shower of stones pelted the landscape.

Chiang-Kahn oriented individual
My pleasantly oriented individual of Chiang-Kahn sits atop a one-cm cube facing away from the center of the earth.

Scientists arrived on scene several days after the locals had gathered up all the easy-to-find pieces that amounted to about a third of a kilo in the form of 31 separate pieces with the largest at 51 gram.

A couple weeks later another piece was found but that one weighed more than twice that of all the previous material amounted. So with the additional 800g individual, the total known weight of Chiang-Khan unofficially broke the one kilogram mark. Oddly, the TKW of this H6 chondrite is usually reported as 367 grams, or as the initial amount found shortly after the fall.

But the TKW story continues. In 2000, a fellow named Oliver Alge mounted a week-long expedition to the strewnfield. That week turned into several months. Oliver recounts his story online and in a paper that accompanied many of the specimens that he sold as part of fund-raising effort. More on that effort is available on Oliver’s website.

Fund raising with meteorites is not a new thing but is relatively rare. I wrote about my experience with what I called “Bakesale Juanchings” or small individauls from that famous fall that were collected by students and teachers, then brought to America to be sold at the Tucson show. I was lucky to play a small part in that event buy buying their stones, and then selling them to recover my cost since my money was already headed back to the schools in China. Here’s some info on that from a previous Meteorite Times article.

This is a excerpt of Oliver’s Chiang-Kahn story as described on his website.

“Due to the political circumstances prevailing in Laos at that time, there are hardly any testimonies about this meteorite fall from there. My Chiang-Khan expedition 2000 was initially intended to last one week only, but actually I spent the whole time from November till the end of February 2001 (and again 6 month) in the strewnfield and was able to shed some light into this darkness.

I met a Laotian army officer who, right after the fall, was entrusted by the government with the task of seizing all fallen stones from the locals (threatening people with punishment!), in order to hand these specimens over to the authorities in Vientiane. People were told that this was dangerous Thai material. Subsequently, the specimens are said to have been sold to the Soviets.’

Chiang-Kahn oriented individual
A oriented meteorite shows the earth only one side during it’s fall. The crust of this Chiang-Khan individual is mostly intact and contraction cracks are visible.

“About half of the persons I interrogated declared a fall direction opposed to the one officially published: according to them, the fireball traveled southwards, to Thailand, coming from the North (Laos). With Thai observers, this variant of the reports is easy to explain: The tense political situation of those days induced the population to conclude that Laos had fired missiles against Thai territory during the night. Due to the time of the fall, hardly anybody will have witnessed the event visually; the enormous explosion jerked people from their sleep and then engendered this story as their first thought.

I personally convinced myself at 5.30 AM in Ban Klang that except for a few dozen dogs sleeping in the streets, no more than a handful of people could have experienced this natural spectacle.
Such fall reports by Laotians, on the other hand, can only be explained by yet another meteorite fall. The aforesaid Laotian army officer saw the fireball coming from the North. He was on night watch in Bagmee when, at about 3 AM, he saw the fireball detonate at an angle of some 45 degrees to the observer. Almost all reports from Laos contain a different fall time and a North-South motion.”

Chiang-Kahn oriented individual
Even as an H6, there are still small chondrules that poked their little spherical head up during reentry. The tiny round bumps make viewing Chiang-Khan under magnification much more interesting.

“A Thai fisherman gave a further fascinating account: at said time, he was on the Mekhong river, where he had cast his net to gather some fish for breakfast. He beheld the “devil’s ball” coming from South, and soon it vanished with a mighty burst. He had to seek shelter against the falling stones under a wool blanket, and the pieces that, in quest of a new home, were laying siege to his boat filled both his hands. Afterwards, he said, he had thrown “the ugly black stones”, which for sure meant no good, into the river.”

Chiang-Kahn oriented individual
For the serious meteorite enthusiast, the trailing edge of an oriented meteorite can be as interesting as the leading edge, sometimes even more so. Still, the cone or bullet-shaped front end is what really makes a valuable orientated specimen. And Chiang-Kahn does not disappoint.

“Nobody was able anymore to give precise indications as to the exact date of the event. Some 20 years ago it was, so they say, in the month of November, without doubt – that’s what I was told in the villages of the strewnfield. Whatever it was that happened then – one is led to presume a second meteorite fall on the same day or on the day after. According to recent research (isotope analysis), the two large specimens, which are in private Collection and in Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, do not originate from the Chiang-Khan fall. They are believed to have been transported into Thailand from Laos. Two small pieces from Thailand were analyzed, one is H4 tending to H5; one was determined to be H5 in Japan, whereas the large pieces are H6. Most of all, the noble gas contents of the large specimens differ extremely from those of the Chiang-Khan pieces!”

Thank you again Oliver for working in the field of Chiang Kahn in order to share the story with us, for this is how meteorite history is made.

Until next time….

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