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Buseck Center for Meteorite Studies

Founding Director Carleton B. Moore

Dr. Carleton B. Moore was a pioneer meteoriticist who began his research in the 1950s when the study of meteorites was a fledgling field. He went on to build an impactful career studying meteorites and samples returned to Earth by the Apollo missions, while also founding and growing one of the most scientifically valuable meteorite collections available for study in the world.

Center for Meteorite Studies Founding Director Carleton B. Moore in his official ASU photo upon joining the university.

Directing the new Center for Meteorite Studies at ASU

In 1960, ASU appointed Dr. Carleton B. Moore to the directorship of the brand-new Center for Meteorite Studies (CMS). Moore was recruited on the recommendation of Harrison S. Brown, a geochemistry professor at the California Institute of Technology, and one of the few scientists in the nation actively studying meteorites. Moore’s PhD thesis, with Brown as advisor, sought to investigate the relationships between chondrite meteorites and ultimately helped improve the understanding of chondrite chemical abundances and their groupings.

In the spring of 1961, the initial activities of the Center for Meteorite Studies, christened by new ASU President G. Homer Durham, commenced on ASU’s Tempe campus. Moore’s first task as Director was to organize a symposium on meteorite research, which brought together scientists from a wide variety of fields. The proceedings of the conference were published as “Researches on Meteorites”, which provides a valuable snapshot of the state-of-the-art knowledge of meteorites at that time.

Under Moore’s leadership, the Center began loaning collection specimens to qualified scientists for study and even secured a NASA grant to keep the loan service free of charge. Moore also brought a steady stream of world-renowned meteorite scientists to the Center to work with the collection. Moore, himself, increased the visibility of the Center by serving as Editor of Meteoritics, the fledgling journal of The Meteoritical Society, and arranging for ASU to publish the journal. The relationship between ASU and Meteoritics continued for twenty years. Additionally, in 1964, ASU hosted the 27th Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society, bringing together meteorite scientists from across the world.

Meteoritical Society La Jolla 1980. Dr. Carleton B. Moore is 3rd from left.

Moore also hired Charles (Chuck) F. Lewis and acquired a LECO gas chromatograph for the Center’s

Chuck Lewis in the lab
Chuck Lewis with the LECO gas chromatograph. Photo: ASU/CMS.

analytical laboratory. Moore and Lewis began by analyzing carbon in iron meteorites, then moved on to analyzing a variety of volatiles (e.g., C, N, S) in both iron and chondrite meteorites. This revolutionized our  understandings of the abundances and behavior of volatile elements in meteorites.

In conjunction with its expanded scientific activities, the Center began its foray into educational and public outreach activities with the opening of the first Center for Meteorite Studies Museum in 1967, in the Bateman Physical Sciences C-Wing.

CMS visits the Moon

The experience and success of the CMS team with analyzing carbon in meteorites led to Moore’s inclusion on the Lunar Sample Preliminary Examination Team (LSPET), the team of scientists assigned to analyze the samples returned by the Apollo astronauts. The first samples returned by the Apollo 11 mission were almost entirely analyzed in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL) at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC; now known as Johnson Spaceflight Center) immediately upon return of the lunar samples to Earth. However, because the CMS was the only facility with the analytical machinery in place for high-quality carbon analyses, Moore flew to Houston to pick up the Apollo 11 samples and personally carried them back to ASU for analysis. READ MORE HERE.

Arizona Republic photo showing Carleton B. Moore and Everett Gibson (then graduate student, later NASA scientist) transporting the first Apollo 11 samples to ASU in 1969.

Organics in meteorites

In 1969, as the world awaited the first lunar landing, a pair of meteorites serendipitously fell that would establish another research specialty for Moore’s research center. On February 8, the Allende meteorite fell in Mexico and on September 28, the Murchison meteorite fell in Australia. Both Allende and Murchison are carbonaceous chondrites, primitive meteorites containing the first solids to form in the Solar System and carbon in organic matter considered to be one of the building blocks of life. In the months after both falls, Moore obtained significant quantities of Allende and Murchison for analysis at ASU. The research produced by Moore and his team would ultimately reshape our understanding of meteorites and their connections to the origins of life on Earth. READ MORE HERE.

An impactful career

In 1981, Asteroid 5046 Carletonmoore (formerly 1981 DQ) was named in Moore’s honor. This main belt asteroid is 6.4 km in diameter and was discovered in February 1981 at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia by S. J. Bus, one of the designers of the Bus-DeMeo asteroid classification taxonomy.

After over 40 years serving the ASU Center for Meteorite Studies, Moore officially retired in 2003. This meant he came in a little less often to ASU, but was still regularly on campus for the next 15 years, checking in on the collection he built, discussing new findings with Center researchers, and enthusiastically participating in public outreach activities. His immense knowledge of meteoritics and the ASU collection were especially valued by Center researchers after his retirement, who frequently joked about needing to record everything he said (and actually did just that on more than one occasion – many of these conversations are preserved at ASU).

Carleton B. Moore

In 2012, at celebrations marking the ASU Center for Meteorite Studies’ 50th anniversary, the Center’s meteorite collection was officially renamed the Carleton B. Moore Meteorite Collection  in recognition of Moore’s invaluable and incomparable contributions to the science of meteoritics and the Center for Meteorite Studies itself. Today, the Carleton B. Moore Meteorite Collection is one of the largest university-based meteorite collections in the world and remains an irreplaceable resource for unraveling the mysteries of our Solar System.

The public museum has since moved and now resides in Interdisciplinary Science & Technology Building IV on the ASU Tempe campus. It has been recognized as a Blue Star Museum and featured by Phoenix New Times as one of the Best of Phoenix places to visit. Moore’s legacy continues in the Center with ASU recently being chosen to host the 90th Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society in 2027, over sixty years after Moore first hosted the meeting at ASU.

Over the course of his storied career, Carleton touched innumerable lives. He encouraged young scientists just starting their own meteoritics journeys, mentored undergraduate and graduate students who went on to prosperous careers of their own, and was a favorite at outreach events with the public, where he gracefully took on the identification of hundreds of potential meteorites (most of which were meteorwrongs) and gifted surprised youngsters with small meteorites from his personal collection. Moore passed away in 2023. He will be missed, but will live on in the hearts of all who knew him, in the many scientific advances he published, in the meteorite collection he built, and in the research center he led for over 40 years.

Read more about Carleton B. Moore’s contributions to science at ASU here.

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Newspaper article describing ASU analysis of Apollo mission lunar samples.
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