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A remarkable collection of meteorites, from the Mbale shower of 14 August 1992,
A remarkable collection of meteorites, from the Mbale shower of 14 August 1992,

A remarkable collection of meteorites, from the Mbale shower of 14 August 1992,

A remarkable collection of meteorites, from the Mbale shower of 14 August 1992,
comprising 1 piece of approximately 27kg, 1 piece of approximately 12kg, 22 pieces between 1 and 10kg, approximaetly 100 pieces between 100g and 1kg, approximately 365 pieces between 10 and 100g, and hundreds of pieces between 1 and 100g, mostly all unbroken, most with natural black fusion crust, totalling approximately 120kg, contained in two metal carrying cases and three small crates

See Colour Illustrations
BETLEM, H. & J., and others, "The Mbale Meteorite Shower", in Meteoritics, vol.29, no.2 (USA, March 1994)
BETELEM, H., "The Day The Earth Rained Stones", in Sky & Telescope (USA, June 1993)

Lot Essay

This remarkably large and complete collection of meteorites is from the Mbale shower of 14 August, 1992. The stone meteorites, chrondite L5/6, began to fall at 3.40pm over the Mbale industrial district of Uganda, accompanied, according to eye-witness reports, by a loud explosion, a greyish-white smoke trail and a compact dust-cloud in the otherwise clear sky. Work was brought to a standstill as the workers thought a bomb had gone off; the falling of the stones sounded like gunfire. Many local people in the north of the effected area believed that they were being bombed by rebels, whose offensive activities were taking place less than 50km away, in the direction from which the shower fell. Only two interviewed eyewitnesses mentioned sight of the meteor in the sky.

Scientists from Leiden University (Netherlands) and Kampala University (Uganda) investigated the shower in a field expedition between 29 August and 5 September of the same year. The original meteorite, before its fragmentation at somewhere above 25km altitude, is estimated to have had a mass somewhere between 400 and 1000kg. 48 impact sites were examined to recover the samples and data published in Meteoritics, Vol.29, No.2, March 1994. Several of the fragments were taken by local people before they could be examined however: locals ran away with the samples, believing that they were God-sent to cure AIDS. Later, rumours spread that the stones contained gold (a mistaken identification of the iron stains present) which accounted for the further dispersal of a small part of the shower. In addition, many pieces fell in the swamps to south of the area, and it cannot be ascertained that all were recovered. Examination of the recovered specimens showed that they are of the L6 type chrondites, stony pieces low in iron with microscopic flecks of magnesium-iron silicates. This was the third recorded fall in Uganda after the stony Maziba, weighing 4.975kg, in September 1942, and the iron Soroti which fell in the Teso district in September 1945, of which 4 pieces were recovered.

The Mbale shower covered an area of 3 x 7km. The samples ranged in size from 0.1g to 27.4kg, and numbered somewhere over 800. The area covered was densely populated, but fortunately, there was relatively little damage to buildings and people: the African Textiles Mill was the worst hit, receiving a 12cm diameter hole in its concrete floor; the local railway station gained a 15cm hole in its roof; a further piece entered the cotton factory and smashed to pieces (now retained in the Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C.). Other buildings struck were the Mbale secondary school, the government prisons, the Maluku District Administration headquarters, the Nokoma secondary school and Namatala, a slum area on the outskirts of of Mbale town. Human injury was scarce, although a young boy from Doko had a narrow escape when he was struck by a 3.6g piece. He was not seriously harmed: the leaves of a nearby banana tree slowed the fragment's initial impact velocity, calculated at 30m/s, leaving him fortunately without injury and in a position to recover the fragment.

The unique collection presented here offers the extraordinary and unusual chance of obtaining by far the largest and most complete portion of this celebrated meteorite shower.


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