Chondrite (L5). Knyahinya, Ukraine. 1866.
For a long time Knyahinya was the largest known stony meteorite. Fundamental research has been carried out on it regarding the radiation ages of meteorites.
The “meteorite fall of Knyahinya” on 9 June 1866 was witnessed by a large number of observers, and recorded in many contemporary reports. In the 19th century it was painted for the NHM by Carlo Brioschi, who travelled to the scene of this event in the Carpathians specially for this purpose (wall painting Hall 5, see photo for object 16).
At 280 kilograms, the largest fragment of this meteorite, which was estimated to have weighed 500 kilograms in total, was left to the NHM, and to this day is considered to be one of the most spectacular objects in the collection.
Three ages are of importance in the characterization of meteorites. Their formation age tells us when the meteorite was formed. Its mineral components are dated for this purpose. All the meteorites from the asteroid belt are of the same age: 4.5 billion years, the age of the solar system. Its terrestrial age documents when the meteorite struck the Earth. This is often known to the nearest hour in the case of the few major meteorite strikes that have been observed by humans. Its radiation age tells us how long the meteorite travelled around the sun as a meteoroid on its own orbit after the break-up of its parent body (a minor planet or an asteroid) before falling to Earth. Even this age can be determined, because a meteoroid is permanently bombarded with cosmic radiation during a journey lasting millions of years, which leads to changes in its isotopic composition.
The fundamental investigations that Swiss physicists carried out on the Knyahinya meteorite in the 1980s provided important data with respect to determining the radiation age of meteorites.