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NASA says locked-up meteorite should be on display

NASA says locked-up meteorite should be on display

ANASA official says a meteorite that crash-landed in Banteay Meanchey province in

early 2005 should be available for public viewing, despite resistance from the Cambodian

government.

NASA astrophysicist Richard B Hoover told the Post the 4.5 kg rock that thumped into

Banteay Chmar commune, Pouk district in January 2005 and has since been kept locked

away at the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, belongs in a museum.

"A museum is better than someone's office simply because the stone will be better

preserved and protected there and available to be appreciated by far more people,"

Hoover said.

"Putting the stones on public display is of value as it helps to educate the

general public and to instil in them the awe of the great wonders and mysteries of

the Cosmos."

On January 24, 2005, the meteorite came hurling out of the sky, sparking fires across

rice fields and prayers from villagers, who saw it as a divine omen of peace.

At the time, Reuters reported Banteay Meanchey police chief Sok Sareth as saying

the hot black lump of celestial rock burrowed itself 40 cm into the ground on impact.

"It made a noise like a bomb exploding," he said. "It's a good thing

it didn't land in the village or people could have been killed."

Sareth told the Post on May 2 some villagers had wanted to keep it in a shrine.

"But we could not keep it, as some of the locals demanded, because it had to

be researched," he said.

He said he lost track of the meteorite after handing it to the Ministry of Industry,

Mines and Energy later that month.

Sieng Sotham, director of the Department of Geology for the Ministry of Industry,

Mines and Energy, confirmed the meteorite was being kept in his office at the ministry

while studies were carried out.

He said the ministry had no intention of putting it on public display because Cambodians

were not interested in such things.

"Cambodian people know about the stone dropping from the sky - they enjoyed

the spectacle - but they are not interested in finding out anything more about it,"

he said.

Under Prime Minister Hun Sen's orders, a sample of the stone was sent to the University

of California in February 2005, because Cambodia lacked the facilities for scientific

testing.

The tests revealed the meteorite to be a nickel iron chondrite, which typically originate

from asteroids orbiting the Sun between Jupiter and Mars.

Sotham said the Ministry would not sell the stone, saying the meteorite had "no

economic value in Cambodia, but huge scientific value."

Hoover said the meteorite would not attract a large sum on the commercial market,

although several websites were offering between US$1 and $15 a gram.

Nevertheless, the meteorite was unusually large and worth studying.

"All meteorites are precious because they are true extraterrestrial objects

that can provide extremely interesting scientific data... which is of value to all

mankind," he said.

"Scientifically, they are important as evidence for chemical and mineral biomarkers,

and possible microfossils in meteorites could help confirm the existence of life

elsewhere in the Solar System."

Experts say meteorites are extraterrestrial stones that provide clues to the nature

of asteroids or comets. Occasionally they are ejected by the collision of a large

asteroid or comet on the surface of the Moon or Mars.

Most meteorites that reach the ground weigh less than 1 kg, and rarely cause destruction.

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