Earth and Space Exploration day is a free annual fall event hosted by the School of Earth and Space Exploration on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus inside/outside Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV. The SESE community offers special science-related activities from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for students aged five and up, families, educators and anyone interested in exploring Earth and space.
More than 40 exhibitors will participate in the annual Earth and Space Exploration Day. One of the biggest attractions is ISTB 4 with its Gallery of Scientific Exploration offering a variety of interactive exhibits and the Marston Exploration Theater, which will be running 3D astronomy shows.
Each year, the SESE community brings to life its research through innovative hands-on activities as part of this special Earth and Space Exploration Day. SESE’s research portfolio includes projects on every continent of the world, and extends to the Moon, Mars, Mercury and beyond. We are taking photos of the lunar surface with special cameras, sampling the Red Planet using robotic rovers, studying earthquakes big and small, investigating mud volcanoes in Indonesia and much, much more!
FOR ONE DAY ONLY, CMS staff will be on hand to inspect postential meteorite specimens in person. Meteorite enthusiasts can take advantage of this unique opportunity to learn if their unusual sample is indeed a meteorite! Only one sample will be identified per person. Center for Meteorite Studies staff will only be available for this special walk-in service during the Earth and Space Exploration Day event.
Join ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration for Center for Meteorite Studies Director Meenakshi Wadhwa's upcoming New Discoveries lecture "Exploring the Solar System through Meteorites"!
In recent years, the exploration of our Solar System has been greatly enabled by ever more sophisticated robotic spacecraft that have been sent to a variety of destinations such as the Moon, Mars, Mercury, and the outer planets. Only a handful of these destinations have been sampled by humans (like the Apollo missions to the Moon) or robotic missions (like NASA’s Stardust mission to comet Wild 2). Meteorites provide a means of sampling a wide variety of Solar System materials (including from many different asteroids, the Moon, and Mars) with minimal expense. The downsides, however, are the lack of geological context and the fact that residence in the terrestrial environment can alter some of their chemical features. Nevertheless, studies of meteoritic samples have led to some astounding advances in our understanding of how and when the solar system and planets were formed. In this talk, I will discuss some of these advances. I will also discuss some experiments that we recently conducted to better understand how exposure to environmental conditions on the surface of the Earth changes some important chemical characteristics of meteorites.
Dr. Meenakshi Wadhwa is Director of the Center for Meteorite Studies in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. She received her PhD in Earth and Planetary Sciences from Washington University in St. Louis. Her research focuses on the origin and evolution of the Solar System and planets through studies of meteorites, Moon rocks and other extraterrestrial samples returned by spacecraft missions. She has hunted for meteorites in Antarctica with the NASA- and NSF-funded Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET) Program, and has also conducted fieldwork in Iceland to collect volcanic materials as analogs of crustal rocks on Mars. She was recently invited to participate as a member of the Initial Sample Analysis Team for the Japanese Space Agency’s Hayabusa2 mission that will be returning samples from the asteroid Ryugu in 2020. Dr. Wadhwa is currently serving as Chair of the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory Council and as Vice President of the Meteoritical Society. Asteroid 8356 has been named 8356 Wadhwa in recognition of her contributions to planetary science.
Open House is in ISTB4, with telescopes located next to the James Turrell Skyscape art installation, a short distance from the building.
Open House is a rain or shine event! While the weather may not always look promising for telescopes, there’s a fantastic array of interactive exhibits and displays inside ISTB4, as well as the 3D Astronomy Show!
The Center does not offer identification services for potential meteorites at Earth & Space Open House.
Keynote theme: Field Work!
6:30 p.m. — Doors open
6:45 p.m. — 3-D Planetarium show*
7:30–9:30 p.m. — Telescopes open for public viewing
7:40 p.m. — Keynote speaker
8:50 p.m. — 3-D Planetarium show*
9:30 p.m. — Event ends
*The two 3-D planetarium shows and keynote lecture will be held in the Marston Exploration Theater. Please note that seating is first come, first served. Doors to the Marston Exploration Theater will open five minutes before the start of each show and the theater will be emptied following each presentation.
In 2013, two small fragments of the Tissint Martian meteorite were "planted" in Arizona's Sonoran Desert in order to deliberately expose them to terrestrial desert weathering. The first piece was recovered for analysis after 12 months of exposure, and the remaining fragment in 2016 (read about Tissint's recovery from the Arizona desert here). During their time in the Sonoran Desert, the meteorite fragments were exposed to hot summer temperatures (as high as 48C or 118F) and occasional bouts of monsoon rain.
The final fragment of the Tissint Martian meteorite (M&M for scale) was recovered after 36 months in the desert. Photos: ASU/CMS.
Upon their return to ASU's Center for Meteorite Studies, the meteorite pieces' volatile (such as water) and isotopic compositions were the subjects of in-depth analyses. The results of this work, led by Center alumna Dr. Alice Stephant were recently published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.
Scientists believe the solar system was formed some 4.6 billion years ago when a cloud of gas and dust collapsed under gravity, possibly triggered by a cataclysmic explosion from a nearby massive star or supernova. As this cloud collapsed, it formed a spinning disk with the sun in the center.
Piece by piece, scientists have been working on establishing the formation of the solar system with clues from space. Now, new research has enabled scientists Meenakshi Wadhwa and Daniel Dunlap at Arizona State University’s Center for Meteorite Studies in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, as well as researchers from the University of New Mexico and NASA’s Johnson Space Center to add another piece to that puzzle, with the discovery of the oldest-ever dated igneous meteorite.
“The meteorite we studied is unlike any other known meteorite,” co-author Dunlap said. “It has the highest abundance of silica and the most ancient age (4.565 billion years old) of any known igneous meteorite. Meteorites like this were the precursors to planet formation and represent a critical step in the evolution of rocky bodies in our solar system.”
The research on this meteorite, published today in Nature Communications, provides direct evidence that chemically evolved, silica-rich crustal rocks were forming on planetesimals within the first 10 million years prior to the assembly of the terrestrial planets and helps scientists further understand the complexities of planet formation.
A meteorite laced with green crystals
The research began at the University of New Mexico (UNM) with a yet-to-be studied meteorite, called “Northwest Africa (NWA) 11119,” that was found in a sand dune in Mauritania. The rock is lighter in color than most meteorites and is laced with green crystals, cavities and quench melt, a type of rock texture that suggests rapid cooling and is often found in volcanic rocks which cool rapidly or “quench” when brought to the surface quickly.
Using an electron microprobe and a computed tomography (CT) scan at UNM and NASA’s Johnson Space Center facilities, lead author Poorna Srinivasan started to examine the composition and mineralogy of the rock. Srinivasan noted the intricacies of NWA 11119 including its unusual light-green fusion crust.
“The mineralogy of this rock is a very, very different from anything that we've worked on before,” Srinivasan said. “I examined the mineralogy to understand all of the phases that comprise the meteorite. One of the main things we saw first were the large silica crystals of tridymite which is similar to the mineral quartz. When we conducted further image analyses to quantify the tridymite, we found that the amount present was a staggering 30 percent of the total meteorite — this amount is unheard of in meteorites and is only found at these levels in certain volcanic rocks from the Earth.”
Video courtesy of the University of New Mexico.
Determining the age and origin of the meteorite
At ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies, scientists and co-authors Dunlap and Wadhwa used inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry in their Isotope Cosmochemistry and Geochronology Laboratory, which helped determine the precise formation age of the meteorite. The research confirmed that NWA 11119 is the oldest-ever igneous meteorite recorded at 4.565 billion years old.
“The purpose of this research was to understand the origin and formation time of an unusually silica-rich igneous meteorite,” said Wadhwa, who is the director of ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies. “Most other known igneous asteroidal meteorites have ‘basaltic’ compositions that have much lower abundances of silica — so we wanted to understand how and when this unique silica-rich meteorite formed in the crust of an asteroidal body in the early solar system.”
In addition, the research involved trying to figure out through chemical and isotopic analyses what body the meteorite could be from. Utilizing oxygen isotopes done in collaboration with co-author Karen Ziegler of UNM’s Center for Stable Isotope lab, the team was able to determine that it was definitely extraterrestrial.
“Based on oxygen isotopes, we know it's from an extraterrestrial source somewhere in the solar system, but we can't actually pinpoint it to a known body that has been viewed with a telescope,” Srinivasan said. “However, through the measured isotopic values, we were able to possibly link it to two other unusual meteorites (Northwest Africa 7235 and Almahata Sitta) suggesting that they all are from the same parent body — perhaps a large, geologically complex body that formed in the early solar system.”
One possibility is that this parent body was disrupted through a collision with another asteroid or planetesimal and some of its ejected fragments eventually reached the Earth’s orbit, falling through the atmosphere and ending up as meteorites on the ground — in the case of NWA 11119, falling in Mauritania at a yet unknown time in the past.
“The oxygen isotopes of NWA11119, NWA 7235, and Almahata Sitta are all identical, but this rock — NWA 11119 — stands out as something completely different from any of the over 40,000 meteorites that have been found on Earth,” Srinivasan said.
Building blocks of planet formation
Most meteorites are formed through the collision of asteroids orbiting the sun in a region called the asteroid belt. Asteroids are the remains from the formation of the solar system, some 4.6 billion years ago.
The chemical composition ranges of ancient igneous meteorites, or achondrites, are key to understanding the diversity and geochemical evolution of planetary building blocks. Achondrite meteorites record the first episodes of volcanism and crust formation, the majority of which are basaltic in composition.
“This research is key to how the building blocks of planets formed early in the solar system,” said co-author Carl Agee, director of UNM’s Institute of Meteoritics. “When we look out of the solar system today, we see fully formed bodies, planets, asteroids, comets and so forth. Then, our curiosity always pushes us to ask the question, how did they form, how did the Earth form? This is basically a missing part of the puzzle that we've now found that tells us these igneous processes act like little blast furnaces that are melting rock and processing all of the solar system solids. Ultimately, this is how planets are forged.”
The next steps for the ASU team are to detail the chronology of this meteorite (and related meteorites) with new isotopic measurements. These new data will help even more precisely determine the age of this unique meteorite and the implications for the evolution of rocky bodies in the early solar system.
The fall was observed in weather radar imagery from the US NEXRAD radar network, operated by the US National Weather Service. The discovery and analysis was done by Dr. Marc Fries, Galactic Analytics LLC. The KLRX radar in Elko, Nevada, is approximately 33 km from the fall site and recorded the fall in eight radar sweeps between 0619.26 UTC and 0621.03 UTC. This time span of 97 s is short compared to other meteorite falls observed by radar. This could be a result of meteorite production by a single, large breakup event, by relatively little fragmentation, or a combination of the two factors. The first stone was found on September 1, 2012, 10:50 AM (PDT) by Robert Verish; it weighs 19.25 g. As of 3 Oct 2012, at least 23 stones with a total mass of ~2.9 kg have been reported.
Albareto is an ordinary (L/LL4) chondrite that fell in northern Italy in July of 1766.
The meteorite’s fall was widely witnessed, as it occurred in the middle of the day, and accounts describe the stone impacting with such force that the ground shook and a cow was knocked off its feet. The 2 kg stone was recovered from a crater approximately a meter deep.
The fall of the Albareto meteorite was very well documented by the Abbé Domenico Troili in a short book published later that year: About the Fall of a Stone from the Air, Explanation, Dedicated to Their Most Serene Highnesses of Modena.
Photo: Mossimo Barbieri. Il frammento della Meteorite di Albareto caduta del luglio 1786 conservato presso il Museo del Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra di Modena Gemma 1786.
In mid-July, 1766, a stone fell at Villa Albareto near Modena in northern Italy. A sudden explosion like a cannon shot follwed by fierce whistling sounds frightened people over a wide area. Some saw a fiery body falling from the sky; others said it was dark and smoky. The ground shook when the stone plunged into the soil making a hole nearly a meter deep. The Abbé Domenico Troili collected eyewitness reports, examined the stone, and reported the presence of marchesita, and old name for pyrite. A century later, this mineral, which proved to be iron sulfide (FeS), was named “troilite” in his honor. Troili’s description is unquestionaby that of a meteorite fall, and therefore some scientists have argued that it is Troili, rather than Ernst F. F. Chladni, to whom we should give credit as the first person to record the fall of a stone from space. However, Troili, himself, had no such idea; he wrote that a subterranean explosion had hurled the stone high into the sky from a vent in the Earth.
A research unit of the School of Earth and Space Exploration.