Man Hunting For Gold Finds Four-Billion-Year-Old Meteorite Instead

One Australian prospector has managed to unearth something far more rare than the gold he was searching for.

Four years ago, David Hole found a mysterious looking rock near Maryborough, about 60km north of Ballarat.

The prospector was surveying the area when his metal detector alerted him to what he assumed was gold.

After instead digging up a red-coloured rock which was indeed not gold, Hole took the unusually heavy boulder home with him nonetheless, intrigued about what might be inside.

Despite his best attempts -- using an angle grinder and sledgehammer -- Hole could not bust it open.

The Marborough meteorite is 38.5cm x 14.5cm x 14.5cm. Photo: supplied

After holding onto it for a few years, the Victorian man finally made contact with the Melbourne Museum in an attempt to, once and for all, figure out what it was.

"I've looked at a lot of rocks that people think are meteorites," Melbourne Museum geologist Dermot Henry told 10 daily.

"And as we often have to say, they're meteor-wrongs," he laughed.

But not this time.

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Testing carried out by Henry and Dr Bill Birch confirmed Hole had certainly stumbled across a meteorite -- 17 kilograms of 4.6 billion-year-old space rock.

Dermot Henry and Dr Bill Birch with the Maryborough meteorite. Image: provided

Now known as the Maryborough Meteorite, it was most likely formed in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Carbon testing suggests it fell to earth anywhere between 100 and 1000 years ago.

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Meteorites are rocks which have travelled through space and landed on Earth. Typically, they are fragments of smashed up asteroids, though occasionally pieces of a comet -- very, very occasionally, they are found to be pieces of Mars or the Moon.

When you see a 'shooting star' streaking across the night sky, it may well be a meteorite finding its new home on our planet.

"We call them the cheapest form of space exploration, because we get these rocky samples coming right to us," Henry said.

"They transport us back to the very early formation of our solar system. So we see within the Maryborough meteorite some of the very first things that crystallized in the hot, gaseous, dusty cloud that our solar system formed from 4.6 billion years ago."

"So that's why we're very excited."

Image: provided

The Maryborough meteorite is noticeably heavier and tougher than any rock found on Earth naturally, because it is filled with very dense forms of iron and nickel.

Using a super-hard diamond saw to get a look at the inside, Henry and Dr Birch determined it to be what is known as a H5 ordinary chondrite meteorite.

The term chondrite means that this meteorite contains tiny crystallised droplets (chondrules), that formed when dust clouds of the early solar system flash heated.

Image: provided

It's not gold, but by the numbers, it's exceptionally more rare.

"This is only the 17th meteorite found in Victoria, whereas there's been thousands of gold nuggets found," Henry said.

"When you think about how it got here, the fact that this particular meteorite most probably comes out of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and it's been nudged out of there by some asteroids smashing into each other, then one day it smashes into Earth and some prospector finds it and brings it to us."

"Looking at the chain of events, it's quite, you might say, astronomical it being discovered at all."

The last known meteorite found in Victoria was discovered at Willow Grove, Gippsland, in 1995.

The Maryborough meteorite will join Melbourne Museum's collection of over 400 meteorite specimens, and be on display on August 11 for National Science Week.