Namibia's Fallen Stars

Meteorite strikes on the planet are more common than one imagines - around 500 a year, although less than 10 are ever recovered. A meteorite is a solid piece of debris from a comet, asteroid or meteoroid that originated in outer space and survived its passage through the atmosphere.

Image left, a close up of the Hoba Meteorite composed of nickel and iron

Image below, the fiery passage pf a falling star over our campsite

Sitting around the fire at night, or cozy in your camp-bed looking up at the prodigious southern constellation, one is bound to see a shooting star or two, sometimes several dart across the skies above us. What we are witnessing is a star’s fiery demise upon entering the earth’s atmosphere. Meteorites, which are mostly a mass of nickel and iron, sometimes survive the passage, leaving spectacular craters on earth. Namibia has two very significant meteorite strikes, both very different in nature.

Roter Kamm in the Sperrgebiet - German for ‘restricted area’ - and somewhere we have been trying to get permission to ride for decades, is a ‘star wound’ of note. About 2,5 km in diameter and now filled with about 300 meters of wind-blown desert sand, this is an incredibly well-preserved impact crater.

The presence of ejected debris from the impact indicates an almost direct trajectory slightly orientated in a north westerly direction. The site, or target rock is often metaphorised (melted) or may even vaporised upon impact, although in this case, the meteorite itself vaporised, leaving only the crater which can still be seen today. Perhaps we will get to ride there one day. Roter Kamm crater above left

In the second instance the angle of the trajectory was not as steep, resulting in what is one of the world’s largest intact meteorites (2,95 x 2,84 meters and weighing about 60 tons). Image above.

Discovered in 1920, the Hoba meteorite (named after the name of the farm where it came to rest near Grootfontein in north-eastern Namibia) is also unique in that, because of its trajectory, it had a relatively ‘soft’ landing leaving no impact crater.

What remains is a solid chunk of nickel and iron - it could, quite possibly have been as heavy as 88 tons. The outer crust, subject to alteration by the heat during its fiery passage, rusted off over the years.

One of the of joys of being on a Namibian safari is the sublime starry canopy which is both enchanting and mesmerizing and definitely never forgotten. There are almost always cosmic activity - other than the many satellites one seems passing overhead - and the seeming closeness of the stars in this rarified atmosphere is intoxicating...come see for yourself, its not an exaggeration.

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