Santa Vitoria do Palmar meteorite
A new meteorite from Brazil
Santa Vitoria do Palmar is the latest meteorite from Brazil.
Although the first fragments were found in the summer of 2003 it was not before the end of 2005 that Santa
Vitoria was confirmed and classified as a meteorite. The author made
contact with the finders and other people involved in the discoveries and was
therefore able to contribute to the research of the circumstances of the 1997 fireball and the meteorite findings of
2003 and 2004. The extensive information collected sheds some light on the background of this particularly
interesting meteorite and gives an idea of the dedication and endurance of the
Brazilian field teams involved.
The fireball of June 25, 1997
At crack of dawn on June 25 it seemed that
this was the beginning of a day like every other day for
the picturesque fishermen village of Santa Vitoria do Palmar at the
south eastern tip of Brazil. And yet the stage was already set for a unique
natural spectacle which was just about to happen. The main act was already approaching
with the speed of some 40,000 miles per hour in the form of a frozen chunk of rock
the size of a refrigerator.
All of a sudden at 07:00 am a bright
light appeared in the clear northern sky
and continued in a high speed trajectory
along the coast and down towards the village. The
descent of the fireball blazing in blue and
green was marked by the coal black smoke trail
that followed it. Accompanied by a series of loud thunder claps the fiery intruder
ended its journey not far from
the outskirts of the village.
Picture 1. The quiet village center of Santa Vitoria do Palmar.
Image courtesy of Jose Monzon Pereia.
Hundreds of eye witnesses in Santa Vitoria
do Palmar and on the far side of the border to
Uruguay in the city of Chui, followed spellbound
the spectacular descent. 19 year old Jacson Costa
de Souza was alarmed by a wheezing sound that continued
for a couple of seconds until suddenly a thundering
sonic boom made the walls of his home tremble. Like
him many inhabitants of Santa Vitoria were scared up
by a series of thunderstrucks and a loud final explosion
which rocked the foundations of their homes.
Picture 2. Although no image of the 1997 fireball exists,
this drawing of a similar event gives a good comparison. The contemporary drawing done by Gisela Schinke shows the smoketrail caused
by the Putinga meteorite which fell on 16 August 1937 near Putinga, Encantada district,
Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. Photo courtesy of Dr. Hardy Grunewald
Minutes after the event local radio stations
were flooded with calls of terrified eyewitnesses
who reported their experiences under the immediate
impression of the event. Radio stations based in Uruguay
reported that the sound of the explosion was heard as far
as Rocha, which is roughly 120 km south of Chui.
A number of eye witnesses who had followed the descent
from north of Santa Vitoria agreed that the impact
had occurred in an area named “Chácara dos
Pinhos”. However with eyewitness reports still
coming in it soon became clear that “Chácara dos Pinhos”
was just close to the trajectory and that the object had
continued beyond this point. All the accounts taken
together suggested that the impact, if one had occurred,
must have taken place in the area between the harbour of
Santa Vitoria do Palmar and the northern outskirts of Chui.
Picture 3. Trajectory (red) and positions and azimuth of fireball sightings (black).
The bolide was travelling from north to south by southwest. See map on last
page for details. Photo courtesy of Meteorite Recon
The search for the crashed mystery
object started the same day. On the
Brazilian side of the border the search was
organised by the commanding officer of the
police Luiz Cavalheiro. Also the police
based in Chui, on the Uruguay side put together
a search party which started around noon to check
a couple of fazendas north and northeast of Chui.
None of these missions led to any discoveries and
both were ended at dusk.
A request which was sent the same
day to the Airbase of Santa Maria revealed
that their radar did not register any object
in the district of Rio Grande do Sul that morning.
A request to the nearby weather station assured
the police that no thunderstorm was present at the
time of the fireball sighting.
Picture 4. Article in La Zero Hora on the SVP fireball published the day after the event. Photo courtesy of Meteorite Recon
The following day, June 26. ZERA HORA, the newspaper
of the state capital of Rio Grande do Sul, printed a detailed
account of the events of the past day. Under the
headline „Objeto luminoso intriga moradores de duas cidades“
the author Marcos Fonseca quotes a number of eye witnesses
and presents a first chronological compilation of the events
which ends with the unsuccessful search in the area of Santa
Vitoria do Palmar. Meanwhile it became clear that the trajectory
span from the north along the edge of the Mirim lagoon and roughly towards
the direction of Chui. Most eyewitnesses agreed that the object had
crashed before reaching Chui in the vicinity of Santa Vitoria do Palmar.
The probable impact zone was assumed to be west by southwest of the village.
The newspaper article from the 26th also offered a first
scientific explanation of the phenomenon. Professor
Homero Vasquez Rodrigues from Chui explained “that the object was
a meteorite that passed in an altitude of 20 km over the
city and that the thunder is due to the sound of the
shockwave of air compressed by the meteorite”. However it is doubtful
if Professor Rodriguez did actually see the fireball.
Click to continue
Part 1, "The 1997 fireball" | Part 2, "First finds" |
Part 3, "Analysis" |
Part 4, "Map"