Scientists with the Purple Mountain Observatory in Nanjing, capital of the eastern province of Jiangsu, said Thursday that the meteorites were all from the same parent asteroid, as their chemical elements are identical.
The earliest dated discovery of the extraterrestrial stones was in 1898, when herdsmen in the Gobi Desert found a 28-tonne silvery stone, which was in the shape of a camel. The Meteoritic Society later named it Armanty, and confirmed it to be the world's fourth-largest meteorite.
Over 100 years later, a second one was found. It weighed 430 kg and was named Ulasitai.
It was not until 2011, when a third one -- Wuxilike -- weighing 5 tonnes was found, that scientists began to notice that the three meteorite were in a line, although across a distance of 425 km.
"They are on the same axis from southeast to northwest, which piqued our interest," said Xu Weibiao, meteorite curator with the observatory under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
Xu, one of the chief scientists with the mineralogical research arm of the meteorites, said the meteorites were composed of the same chemical components and microelements.
Several smaller meteorites have also been found in the field, all with the same chemical composition as the larger rocks.
"This suggests that the meteorites were all from the same parent asteroid before it separated as it entered the Earth' atmosphere," said Xu.
HOW BIG WAS THE METEOR SHOWER?
An ordinary meteor shower can scatter meteorites across dozens of kilometers.
Before the finding in Altay, the world's largest meteorite strewn field was Gibeon, with a long axis of 275 km.
Judging by the 425-km strewn length of the Altay field, its meteor shower is likely the largest on the Earth.
However, there is no historical documentation on the incident. Scientists speculate it might have happened prehistorically.
"A meteor shower of such a scale must have had a great impact on the Earth. If it happened after humans walked the earth, we often find cave painting depicting the incident in the area," said Xu.
He said the team has used isotopic dating to determine when the meteor shower occurred.
An average of 20,000 meteorites fall to the Earth every year. Scientists use extraterrestrial stones to determine information about the universe and life signs in space through chemical classification.
For example, scientists previously discovered evidence of magma activity on Mars some 200 million years ago after sampling a meteorite.
In 2017, China will launch the Chang'e-5 lunar probe, which will collect samples from the moon.
"For the moon sample research, the observatory will use more advanced analytical equipment, which will greatly assist our petrological and mineralogical research," Xu said. Enditem
Chinese meteorite field likely to be world’s largest
Experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences confirmed on October 13 that the meteorite-strewn field in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is likely the world's largest.
According to a report by Xinhua News Agency, the field of meteorites stretches to an estimated 425 kilometres, 150 kilometres larger than the Gibeon meteorite shower in Namibia.
The shower has been named Altay, after the region in which it landed. First discovered in 1898, the 28-tonne Armanty meteorite was originally thought to be isolated, until the 430-kilogramme Ulasitai meteorite was discovered 100 years later.
However, Shanghai Daily reports that it was not until 2011 that a third - the 5-tonne Wuxilike - was found that scientists noticed that all three were in a line stretched across 425 kilometres.
“This suggests that the meteorites were all from the same parent asteroid before it separated as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere,” said Xu Weibiao, meteorite curator with the observatory under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.