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Meteorites reveal the secrets of last month's Russian fireball

Shards of meteorite, remnants of the fireball that streaked across Russia's skies on February 15, are giving scientists clues to the composition and origin of the space rock.

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Fallout from Chelyabinsk

For Taylor, studying extraterrestrial samples here on Earth is a long-time passion. He was in the "backroom" at NASA Johnson Space Center during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, where he served one of the scientists directly advising the astronauts on their various moonwalks. Taylor is accustomed to analyzing the mineralogy, petrology and geochemistry of rocks from "out there."

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"It's like every time we went to the moon, we learned something new," he said. "We could put together the story. And that's the same thing here … It's always like that."

Taylor said he suspects that the superbolide over Russia may have originally been a quite large, unusual object before it broke apart. The three pieces he is now studying were recovered in three different locations. While they are all pretty much the same in composition overall, each one has some unique characteristics, he said.

The fallout from the Chelyabinsk event may well have an impact beyond science, Taylor said.

"To see the pictures and see the devastation that this did was immense," Taylor said. "It brought back the whole fear of near-Earth asteroids. This scares the world, and I think NASA will change its priorities a bit."

Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is former director of research for the National Commission on Space and a past editor-in-chief of the National Space Society's Ad Astra and Space World magazines. He has written for SPACE.com since 1999. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.

Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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