Fact Check: Have humans found the largest meteorite on earth?

Even after decades of research, scientists are continuing to discover secrets of the universe hidden inside our planet.

Artificial intelligence, edge computing and exploratory space missions have helped us, in recent years, understand the history of the earth’s place in our galaxy, in ways unimaginable to our ascendants.

And like any good scientist, even with such advances in our path, we ought to always consider the possibilities of what we don’t know yet.

A photo of the Hoba meteorite, shared on social media, has been claimed to be the largest on earth – but is that right? Pictured here, a Perseid meteorite streaks over the stone dools near the village of Kuklica in the municipality of Kratovo, Northern Macedonia, an area of naturally formed stone pillars that resemble humans, on August 13, 2021.
Robert Atanasovski/AFP via Getty Images

The Claim

A post on Reddit claimed that the Hoba was the biggest meteorite in the world. The post received nearly 15,000 engagements since it was published on 17 August, 2022.

The Facts

After landing on earth about 60,000 years ago, the Hoba was discovered in 1920 and is now thought to be the largest known meteorite on the planet.

As stated in a recent article by The Smithsonian, the Hoba is three foot tall and nine foot across, which might not sound like a lot, but most asteroid remains that make it to the Earth’s surface aren’t big enough to be noticeable.

For example, the Braunschweig meteorite, which landed in Germany’s Lower Saxony region in 2013, weighed just over one kilogram and broke into hundreds of fragments when it hit the earth.

The Hoba, by comparison, weighed 66 tonnes. Despite its weight, it didn’t create a crater, which (The Smithsonian speculated) may have been because of its relative flatness, meaning it could have fallen to earth slower due to air resistance.

However, while it is technically true that the Hoba is the largest meteorite found on the earth’s surface, it’s only the biggest of the known and tangible meteorites.

For example, the Chicxulub asteroid, which killed out the dinosaurs, may have produced many meteorites; scientists theorize the impact may have caused fragments of matter to eject into the atmosphere able to escape the earth and/or return as meteorites.

A paper from 2008 states that “a number of fragments from the Chicxulub crater have fallen onto the Moon and the Earth… and are waiting to be identified as Chicxulubites.” The impact crater has been analysed and imaged in great detail using geophysical techniques.

There are also a number of meteorites that are only just now being discovered. Just this week a scientific paper published by geoscientist Uisdean Nicholson and colleagues found evidence in the Guinea Plateau of West Africa that more than one asteroid could have been behind the disappearance of dinosaurs.

Additionally, nearly two-thirds of all meteorites on earth were found in Antarctica, according to the Meteoritical Society. Compacted in ice, they are hard to reach and scientists estimate that a large number still haven’t been found.

Many of these meteorites end up in the ocean, and are concentrated on the surface of ice sheets (known as blue ice). Depending on conditions, this can make them easily recoverable, although discovering them has, historically, been more challenging.

However, recent artificial intelligence studies have not only found that AI can identify nearly 83% of known meteorite rich zones in Antarctica, but also discovered many potentially unexplored ones too, with up to 300,000 meteorites still present at the ice sheet surface.

So, while the Hoba remains the largest discovered and directly accessible meteorite on record, exciting advancements in science and technology mean that others of greater size and impact may still somewhere on the planet, and could one day be unearthed.

The Ruling

Needs Context

Needs Context

The Hoba is the largest monolithic meteorite discovered so far on earth, but we cannot say if it is the largest space rock on the planet. Many may still be out there waiting to be found, including some asteroid remains that could be buried deep inside impact craters known to be far larger than Hoba.

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