Rocks from Space!


A number of years ago, during a visit to Texas Christian University, I visited the Oscar Monnig meteorite collection.

Before this visit, I knew what meteorites were (rocks from space that actually make it to the Earth’s surface), but I had never given much thought to where they came from (other than the famous Mars meteorite).

Scientists, of course, had thought about it and have figured out the “parent” source of some meteorites.

A few meteorites have been caught on camera as they heat up falling through the Earth’s atmosphere, and their previous orbits can be determined from that data.  The results show that most meteorites came from the asteroid belt.

An early example is here:

Click to access Peek_1.pdf

Some clever scientists set up their cameras where it would be easy to find any meteorites that made it to the Earth.

Radar data can also be used to find meteorites and figure out where they came from.

Click to access Science-Manuscript-SM.pdf

But meteorites that are caught on camera during reentry are rare.

Scientists can also measure the reflection spectra of meteorites (the amount of light reflected back at various frequencies) and compare them to the telescopic spectra of various asteroids.  They found some pretty close matches:

Click to access Burbine.asteroidsIII.20002.pdf

But not all meteorites come from asteroids.  Some come from planets.

Martian meteorites tend to be “young” and contain gases that match the Martian atmosphere measured by the Viking spacecraft.

Click to access Chap%20I.pdf

Lunar meteorites are also identified by their mineralogy and chemistry.

Recently, a meteorite was found in Africa that might originally be from Mercury:

How cool is that?

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