Meteorite Lighting up Sky above Žemaitkiemis 88 Years Ago


88 years ago, on 2 February 1933, 08:30 p.a., the sky above Žemaitkiemis town, Ukmergė district, was lighted up by a guest from cosmos – a falling meteorite.

It is the last known and the most famous meteorite ever found in Lithuania. A lot of people were watching the falling of the meteorite –  local folk saw a bright flash of light in the sky and heard a strong crash. Before reaching the earth the meteorite split into several fragments which spread in a 7.5 km long and 3 km wide stretch over Rundžių, Kliepšių, Valų, and Medinų villages and Žemaitkiemis town. The meteorite fragments found were called "Žemaitkiemis meteorite“.  Though some parts of the meteorite fell onto residential areas, close to buildings, it was a miracle that no one was hurt.

A group of scientists headed by Mykolas Kaveckiis, Professor of Vytautas Magnus University (1889–1969), came from Kaunas to search for the meteorite. They got help from local people, as well as teachers and schoolchildren. Conditions for searching for the meteorite were very good. Meteorite fragments spread on snow-covered fields and meadows around Lake Klepšių; therefore, black pieces were clearly visible against white background.  

Overall, 22 fragments (total mass 44.1 kg, greatest fragment's mass 7.3 kg) were collected. Prof. Mykolas Kaveckis made a detailed description of the meteorite and concluded that not all fragments were found. In professor's opinion, the total weight of the Žemaitkiemis meteorite should be over 50 kg. Some larger fragments were assumed to have broken the ice of Lake Kliepšių and disappeared there.

The Žemaitkiemis meteorite belongs to the most common stony meteorites classified as L6 chondrites. This is the most frequent type of meteorites (constituting about 90–95 percent of all meteorites). The meteorite is composed of olivine chondrules. The fine-grained substantial mass contains olivine and pyroxene crystals and their debris. Twenty percent of mass is composed of iron and nickel inclusions. As calculated by the argon–argon dating method, the age of the mineral is about 520 million years.

The Žemaitkiemis meteorite samples are stored at the Natural History Museum in London, Vernadsky Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Czech National Museum in Prague, Vilnius University Museum of Geology, and Ukmergė Ethnographic Museum. Two fragments (5700 g and 1840 g) are stored at Nature Research Centre Museum of Minerals.

Text and photos by Birutė Poškienė