The forensic breakthrough would prove that, contrary to what was generally believed, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, did not crash in the Pacific Ocean, running out of fuel somewhere near their target destination of Howland Island.
Instead, they made a forced landing on Nikumaroro' smooth, flat coral reef. The two became castaways and eventually died on the atoll, which is some 350 miles southeast of Howland Island.
Called 2-2-V-1 by TIGHAR researchers, the battered sheet of aluminum has been the subject of intense investigation since its discovery in the vegetation of Nikumaroro.
The 19-inch-wide by 23-inch-long sheet is made of a product introduced by Alcoa Aluminum in 1933 known as "24ST Alclad."
Although Earhart's plane was skinned with this material, it wasn't possible for TIGHAR researchers to fit the 2-2-V-1 sheet anywhere on a Lockheed Electra.
"During our research at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in March, we learned that the artifact doesn't fit anywhere on the original or repaired parts of Earhart's Electra. I thought that was the end of it," Gillespie said.