A meteorite estimated to be around 4.5 billion years old has been recovered by Perth researchers from a remote part of Lake Eyre in outback South Australia, reported ABC.

In a race against time, the geologists dug the 1.7-kilogram meteorite out just hours before heavy rains would have wiped away any trace of it.

The team from Curtin University had been trying to track the fall site since the meteorite was spotted by locals and five remote cameras in late November in the William Creek and Marree areas.

Curtin University team leader Phil Bland hand-dug the meteorite from a 42-centimetre-deep hole in a remote section of the lake bed just hours before the arrival of heavy rains would have washed away any remaining clues.

“It was an amazing team effort, we got there by the skin of our teeth,” Professor Bland said.

“It is older than the Earth itself. It’s the oldest rock you’ll ever hold in your hand.

“It came to us from beyond the orbit of Mars, so in between Mars and Jupiter.”

Team member Robert Howie said the meteorite was embedded in the thick salt lake mud, and covered by softer and wetter mud due to rain which had fallen between the time of impact and recovery. Heavy rainfall has since started to fill Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre with water.

Professor Bland said the meteorite – thought to be a chondrite or stony meteorite – provided an example of material created during the early formation of the Solar System more than 4.5 billion years ago.

“This meteorite is of special significance as the camera observations used to calculate the fall positions have also enabled the solar system orbit of the meteorite to be calculated, giving important contextual information for future study,”

Professor Bland, who is supported by an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship, said the discovery held added significance for the Desert Fireball Network team.

“It demonstrates beyond doubt that this giant machine that we’ve built really works.

“We’ve got a lot more rocks on the ground. This recovery will be the first of many – and every one of those meteorites will give us a unique window into the formation of the Solar System.”

Professor Bland said the team certainly hadn’t expected to spend New Year’s Eve digging for a meteorite on Lake Eyre, but the result had made it all worthwhile.

“A big thanks to the Arabana people as well for giving us access to the lake surface at such short notice. We couldn’t have done this without them.”