The tale of the Chinguetti meteorite is a captivating enigma that has puzzled researchers for over a century. In 1916, a 4.5-kilogram stony-iron rock was said to have been extracted from a towering 100-meter-wide iron mountain, believed to be a colossal meteorite, in Africa. Despite numerous expeditions, the existence of this supposed massive parent meteorite has eluded confirmation. Now, a team of scientists from Imperial College London and the University of Oxford are reigniting the search for this elusive celestial artifact.

Captain Gaston Ripert, a French consular official, initially discovered the smaller meteorite fragment and claimed to have been led to the ‘iron hill’ by a local chieftain while blindfolded. The meteorite was christened after the nearby city of Chinguetti in Mauritania, northwest Africa. Various endeavors to locate the colossal iron mountain from which the fragment originated, including investigations in the 1990s, have yielded no concrete results. A study in 2001 suggested that the stony-iron mesosiderite fragment could not have originated from a mass larger than 1.6 meters across, based on metal analysis.

New Perspectives Emerge

The latest team of researchers embarking on the quest to uncover the Chinguetti meteorite propose novel explanations for past failed searches. They suggest that the absence of an impact crater could be attributed to the meteorite striking the ground at a shallow angle. The iron mountain might have been buried under sand over the years, eluding detection. Inaccurate instruments, erroneous search locations, or vague directions from Captain Ripert could have also impeded previous search efforts.

Of particular interest is Ripert’s description of metallic ‘needles’ on the iron hill, which he attempted to dislodge with his meteorite fragment. The researchers speculate that these ductile structures could be nickel-iron phases known as ‘Thomson structures,’ a concept unheard of in 1916. They assert that Ripert unlikely fabricated such observations. Employing digital elevation models, radar data, and insights from local camel riders, the team has narrowed down potential search areas based on Ripert’s reported half-day journey to the site.

The researchers are seeking aeromagnetic survey data from Mauritania’s Ministry of Petroleum Energy and Mines to corroborate their findings. Access to this crucial data is pending. Alternatively, a ground-based expedition to scour the region for the Chinguetti meteorite is proposed, albeit a time-consuming endeavor. The researchers acknowledge that a negative outcome would leave Ripert’s story unresolved, along with the enigmatic ductile needles and the fortuitous unearthing of the mesosiderite.

The tantalizing quest for the Chinguetti meteorite continues to intrigue and bewilder. The researchers’ groundbreaking discoveries, though yet to undergo peer review, shed new light on this enduring mystery. The allure of uncovering the largest meteorite on Earth spurs them onward, driven by a thirst for knowledge and a quest for the truth.


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