Martian Meteorite Given To London Museum
February 9, 2012

Martian Meteorite Given To London Museum

The Natural History Museum in London is now in possession on a rare Mars meteorite that could help scientists unravel the mysteries of the Red Planet.

The Tissint Martian meteorite is the largest and newest known meteorite, and could help determine whether there is life on Mars.

The meteorite fell in the desert of southern Morocco last July, and eyewitnesses say they heard two sonic booms and saw a bright fireball racing across the sky.

The meteorite weighs in at 2.5 pounds and is now the largest Martian meteorite in the Museum's collection.

"Arguably this is the most important meteorite to have fallen in 100 years and we now have the largest piece in our collections," Dr Caroline Smith, meteorite curator at the Natural History Museum,  said in a press release.

"Martian meteorites are incredibly rare, and when they have been seen to fall and recovered quickly, like Tissint, they offer a unique insight into the Red Planet."

There have been only four other witnessed Martian meteorite falls, with the last one being seen in Nigeria in 1962.

Just 0.15 percent, or 61, of the 41,000 meteorites known to science come from Mars, and studying them can prove even harder.

The longer a meteorite is left before being found, the more contamination from moisture in the air or Earthly bacteria is likely.

Scientists hope the Tissint meteorite might hold small samples of the Red Planet trapped somewhere within it.

"Tissint fell in a dry area, was picked up soon after it fell and has absolutely minimal contamination," Smith said. "It is as if it has just been blasted off Mars."

The museum holds a collection of about 1,950 individual meteorites, one of the most complete collections in the world.

About 1,000 meteorites land on Earth every year, ranging from the size of a football to the size of a washing machine.

Scientists hope this meteorite might contain evidence of energy, water, or carbon, which are prerequisite for life.  They will be looking for minerals formed in the presence of water, and for any signs of organics.

The meteorite contains a lot of glassy material called maskelynite, which was most likely formed through the impact of Mars.

Scientists will analyze the gas trapped in bubbles in the glass to determine more about the Martian atmosphere.

Smith said the ejection date of this meteorite could range from about 600,000 years ago, up to 17 million years ago.


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