By Bea Santina Maranan

A rare meteorite is currently on display in the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH)!

Last July 8, the said museum was gifted with a piece of the Orconuma meteorite — few of its kind ever recorded in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

Photo courtesy of ABS-CBN and National Museum

On March 7, 2011, a meteorite crashed near Orconuma, Bongabong, Oriental Mindoro, and farmers found pieces of the fallen heavenly body on a field. It took eight years for it to be uncovered, after being hidden from the public's view. The meteorite is eponymously named after barangay Orconuma.

This discovery is almost a miracle, as it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find meteorites amidst the dense vegetation of a tropical country like the Philippines. It is one of the only six recorded meteorites in the country.

Meteorites are frequently driven to Arizona and Antarctica's geologically stable regions, in the form of their hot deserts and cold glaciers. Antarctica contains 62% of all meteorites discovered, as cited by the Meteoritical Bulletin Database.

In Asia, the Arabian Peninsula is the major "storage bin" of meteorites, having contained 78% of meteorites found in the region. Southeast Asia only contains a sparse amount of fallen space debris, specifically 0.3%, based on the same report.

What's more phenomenal is that three farmers witnessed the fall of the Orconuma meteorite on their farm fields. Edgar Francisco Sr., Fredo Manzano, and Enrico Camacho, Jr. were clearing trees in the area when they allegedly heard six loud explosions and felt the ground shaking for a minute. 

They feared it was the end of the world as they turned to gaze up and saw a burning red object with sparks shooting out of it. They found the meteorite in a nearby crater, which to them resembled melted glass. 

The rock is brownish in color, 7.8 kilos in weight, 6 inches in height and 9 inches in width, and contains significant amounts of iron and glass. It is classified as a “H3-4 chondrite.” A common chondrite from the H group that is made up of breccias, angular pieces of rocks bonded together of types 3 and 4.

The farmers didn’t reveal their unusual discovery until the year 2020, when they decided to unveil the “rock” to the media. The collected piece was confirmed as a meteorite after going under tedious testing. International meteorite collectors John Higgins and Jasper Spencer purchased it, and gifted a piece of it to the National Museum of the Philippines on July 8, 2022, at a turnover ceremony led by senior geologist Aubrey Whymark.

NMNH's deputy director-general for museums, Jorell Legaspi, and Maileen Rondal, the officer in charge of the division's geology and paleontology section, were there to accept the specimen about the size of an average adult hand. It is the first meteorite to be added to the museum's National Geological and Paleontological Collections.

The meteorite is estimated to be around 4.6 billion years old dating back from the formation of the solar system. Meteorites help experts discover the composition of the Earth. They are part of the diverse celestial materials that formed the planet, from billions of years ago. By receiving such an honor to display the Orconuma meteorite is like giving us a slice of the history behind how Earth came to life, up to the planet we know of today.