January 18, 2012
Meteorite Found In Morocco Is From Mars, Scientists Say
Rare chunks of rock that crashed to Earth in Morocco last July came from Mars, according to a special committee of meteorite experts that announced the findings on Tuesday.
The findings are only the fifth time that scientists have chemically confirmed Martian meteorites.
Witnesses had described seeing the small rocks fall to Earth in a fireball in the sky last summer. However, the rocks were not discovered on the ground until December, when collectors gathered 15 pounds of meteorites, with the largest rock weighing around 2 pounds.
Scientists and meteorite collectors are thrilled over the news, and the rocks are drawing large bids due to their extreme rarity (there are less than 240 pounds of Martian rocks on Earth).
The latest samples were collected by dealers representing those who discovered the rocks. Even before their official certification, scientists with NASA, museums and universities had to scramble to purchase or trade them.
"It's a free sample from Mars, that's what these are, except you have to pay the dealers for it," University of Alberta meteorite expert Chris Herd, who heads the committee that certified the rocks, told Seth Borenstein from the Associated Press (AP).
Astronomers believe a very large object collided with Mars millions of years ago, hurtling rocks into the solar system — one of which ultimately landed here on Earth last July.
As the fireball plunged into Earth's atmosphere, it split into smaller pieces, with one chunk shattering into shards when it smashed into the ground.
The rocks offer a critical and rare view of Mars for scientists exploring the red planet's potential for life. To date, no NASA or Russian spacecraft have been able to return pieces of Mars, meaning the only Martian samples scientists can analyze are those that crash to Earth during a meteorite shower.
With the exception of a Martian meteorite discovered in 1962, most samples of Mars have been here on Earth for millions of years, and are contaminated with materials and life. However, the new rocks that fell last summer, while likely somewhat tainted because they have been here for months, offer a much purer sample for scientists to examine.
In addition to announcing the certification of the rocks on Tuesday, the scientists said that one of their critical decisions was to officially connect these rocks to the July fireball witnessed by people and captured on video.
The announcement and naming of these meteorites – dubbed Tissint – came from the International Society for Meteoritics and Planetary Science, a formal group of 950 scientists that confirms and names meteorites.
Meteorite dealer Darryl Pitt, who sold a rock to Mr. Herd, said he sells the rocks at between $11,000 and $22,500 per ounce -- about 10 times the price of gold. Pitt said he is nearly sold out of his stock.
An up-to-date list of all Martian meteorites can be found at http://www.imca.cc/mars/martian-meteorites-list.htm.