Learn About the Sikhote-Alin Meteorite

Basic Information

  • Location: Sikhote-Alin Mountains, Maritime Province, Russia, about 270 miles northeast of Vladivostok. Latitude 46 degrees 9.6 minutes North, Longitude 134 degrees 39.2 minutes East.
  • Structural Class: Coarsest octahedrite, Ogg, Widmanstatten bandwidth 9 5 mm.
  • Chemical Class: Group IIB, 5.9% Ni, 0.42% Co, 0.46% P, about 0.28% S, 52 ppm Ga, 161 ppm Ge, 0.03 ppm Ir.
  • Time of Fall: February 12, 1947, 10:38 a.m. local time.

    Location Map

    Here is a map showing where the Sikhote-Alin Meteorite Fell:

    The Sikhote-Alin Fall

    The Sikhote-Alin meteorite fell during daylight at 10:38 a.m. local time on February 12, 1947. Witnesses reported a fireball that was brighter than the sun. It came from out of the north -- about 15 degrees east of north and descended at an angle of 41 degrees. It left a trail of smoke and dust that was 20 miles long and lingered for several hours. Light and sound of the fall were observed for two hundred miles around the point of impact.

    The speed of entry was estimated to be 14.5 kilometers per second. This is about 8.7 miles per second or 31,000 miles per hour. As the meteorite entered the atmosphere some of it began to break apart. The group of fragments fell together.

    When the descending group of meteorites reached an altitude of about 3.5 miles, the largest mass apparently broke up in a violent explosion. This was a very low altitude for such an event -- about half the altitude at which passenger jets fly.

    The fragments scattered over an elliptical area of about a half a square mile. The largest fragments made small craters and pits. One of these measured 85 feet across and 20 feet deep. The larger craters are located at the far end of the strewn field. (I am working o a map to show this.)

    Sikhote-Alin is one of the most spectacular falls of recorded history and one of a very small number of recent iron meteorite falls.

    Character of the Sikhote-Alin Meteorites

    Specimens from this fall are of two types. Some -- those called "complete individuals" -- show ablation and fusion crust. These are probably the ones that broke off of the main mass early in the decent. The surface was vaporized and eroded by the trip through the atmosphere. These are characterized by regmaglypts -- or thumb prints -- ablation cavities in the surface of the specimen. Click hereto see pictures of some complete individuals with regmaglypts.

    The second type of Sikhote-Alin specimen is the fragments. These show the violent effects of being torn apart in the atmosphere or being blasted apart on impact with the ground. A metallurgist would say they were cold-worked. These are probably the fragments from the explosion 3.5 miles high. Many look like shrapnel from violent explosions. Some show shield shapes or orientation. Striations may be seen on some flatter surfaces. Click hereto see pictures of some oriented shrapnel pieces.

    Size of the Sikhote-Alin Fall

    The total mass of the Sikhote-Alin has been estimated at somewhat under 1000 tons. Of course this was spread over the area of the strewn field. The largest fragment is a 1,745 kilogram specimen now on display in Moscow. A larger number of specimens range from 1000 kg on down.

    Structure of the Sikhote-Alin

    The Sikhote-Alin is a coarsest octahedrite. The Widmanstatten bandwidth is nearly a centimeter. The bands are so large on this meteorite that if you were to saw and etch a smaller piece, you might see no crystal structure at all. While the structure may not be readily apparent in sawed and etched specimens, it can be seen in some individuals. The ablation in the atmosphere preferentially eroded along the crystal boundaries. The diagonal line down the center of specimen SA193 is such an ablation. The specimen shown here, SA245, shows similar features between the green arrows.

    Chemistry of the Sikhote-Alin

    The Sikhote-Alin is classified in Group IIB, with 5.9% Ni, 0.42% Co, 0.46% P, about 0.28% S, 52 ppm Ga, 161 ppm Ge, 0.03 ppm Ir. Of course, almost all of the remaining portion of the meteorite is iron.

    The important minerals are:

  • Kamacite--this iron nickel alloy makes about 90 percent of specimens in finger size and width crystals. Neumann bands are common.
  • Taenite and plessite, the other iron-nickel alloy constituents, occur sparsely. It is often violently brecciated.
  • Schreibersite crystals occur as skeletal blades. This is a very hard iron phosphide that will ruin a saw blade.
  • Rhabites are abundant.
  • Troilite--this iron sulfide occurs a in minor amounts associated with the schreibersite.
  • chromite is also found.

    A Note on Sikhote-Alin Specimens and the Opening of Russia.

    Only since the opening of Russia have we seen these beautiful specimens. If the political environment changes, then there may be fewer. I recommend an article by Roy Gallant in the February 1996 issue of Meteorite! magazine.

    Find Out More About Meteorites

    These books will help you learn more about meteorites:

    Rocks from Space by O. Richard Norton, Mountain Press, 1994. This book covers just about every aspect of meteorites in a way that the layman can easily understand. Norton devotes most of a chapter to Sikhote-Alin.

    Meteorites & Their Parent Planets by Harry McSween, Cambridge U. Pr., 1987. Well written book for a layman with a technical background.

    Handbook of Iron Meteorites by Vagn Buchwald, U. of California Press, 1976. A very complete technical description of known iron meteorites including Sikhote-Alin. This book is a major source of the information on this page.

    Let's Investigate Magical, Mysterious Meteorites by Madelyn Carlisle, Barron's, 1992. A well-done book for children-but written in a way that even adults will learn from it.

    To see our meteorite classification table and learn about the types of meteorites, click here.

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