New Center for Meteorite Studies Interim Director

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Devin Schrader has been appointed Interim Director of the ASU Center for Meteorite Studies.

Dr. Devin SchraderSince 2015, Dr. Schrader has served as Assistant Director of the Center for Meteorite Studies and Research Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.  His research involves the use of petrographic, compositional, thermodynamic, and isotopic data to constrain the pre-accretionary formation conditions and secondary thermal and aqueous alteration processes of small bodies in the early Solar System, with a particular focus on primitive meteorites unaltered since their formation, as well as meteorites that were thermally and aqueously altered on their parent asteroid. He also provides sample science support for NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission.

Meenakshi Wadhwa ready to lead Earth and space exploration at ASU

Congratulations to former Center for Meteorite Studies Director Meenakshi Wadhwa, who has assumed leadership of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration!

Wadhwa received her doctorate from Washington University in St. Louis and was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California at San Diego and then curator at the Field Museum in Chicago before moving to ASU in 2006.

At ASU, she has served as director of the Center for Meteorite Studies and professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. She is best known for developing novel methodologies for high precision isotope analyses related to her research in the time scales and processes involved in the formation and evolution of the solar system.

Established in 2006, ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration is committed to high-impact scientific discovery, asking important questions with deep consequences and exploring the great unknowns of the Earth, our solar system and the universe beyond. This interdisciplinary school combines the strengths of science, engineering and education to set the stage for a new era of exploration.

ASU Now recently interviewed Wadhwa with regards to her new position as Director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration; read the full story here!

Center doctoral candidate receives NASA award

Congratulations to Ph.D. candidate Zachary Torrano, recipient of a highly competitive and prestigious Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology (FINESST) award!

Zack's proposal, "Using three isotope systems (Cr, Ti, and O) to address two important questions in planetary science via one sample suite of ungrouped chondrites: 3, 2, 1, Go!", was one of only 29 selected from over 290 applications in the Planetary Science division.

The inaugural 2019 FINESST award succeeds the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF). The purpose of the FINESST award is to provide relevant research and/or technology development project training in disciplines needed to achieve the goals of the NASA Space Mission Directorate (SMD); FINESST awards are granted to student-designed research projects that contribute to SMD's science, technology and exploration goals.

Congratulations, Zack!

Zachary Torrano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Zachary Torrano presents his research at the 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, TX. Photo ⓒ ASU/CMS.

Center doctoral candidate featured on Women Doing Science

Ph. D. Candidate Soumya Ray was recently featured on the Women Doing Science Instagram and Twitter feeds.  The posts include a brief description of Ray's research in the Center for Meteorite Studies and School of Earth and Space Exploration, in addition to photos of her work in both the meteorite collection and laboratory. Women Doing Science regularly features women doing lab and fieldwork, and telling their research stories.

Soumya RaySoumya's current research involves measuring the Fe isotope fractionation in achondrite meteorites, as well as analyzing their Si isotope composition. Her Fe isotope work on aubrites, in particular, has provided new insight into the formation of metal nodules in these unique meteorites, and will be presented at the 82nd Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society in Sapporo, Japan.

Soumya was awarded a Summer Exploration Graduate Fellowship in 2018, as well as the highly competitive and prestigious NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship, and presented new research findings this spring at the 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, held in Houston, Texas.

She recently authored the article "Women Astronauts? How Ridiculous!" for the ASU Interplanetary Initiative Community in a Box Project.

Thuathe

July's Meteorite of the Month is Thuathe, an ordinary (H4/5) chondrite that fell in Lesotho the afternoon of July 21, 2002.

According to the Meteoritical Bulletin (MB 87), the meteorite exploded over Lesotho, approximately 12 km east of the capital city of Maseru.

The explosion was accompanied by an extraordinarily loud, 15 s long noise which was heard over a large (100 km radius) area of Lesotho; the fall was eye-witnessed by several people who reported sightings of dust trails of "sparkling objects" over Lesotho and the southern part of the Free State Province of South Africa.  Many villagers of Ha Ralimo, Boqate Ha Majara, and Boqate Ha Sofonia reported falls of stones close to themselves and onto their homes.

To date, over 45 kg (almost 100 lb) of the Thuathe meteorite have been recovered.

Read more about the Thuathe meteorite fall, including eye-witness accounts, here!

 

 

 

Ibitira

June's Meteorite of the Month is Ibitira, an achondrite (Eucrite-mmict) that fell in Minas Gerais, Brazil, the evening of June 30, 1957.

According to the Meteoritical Bulletin (MB 6):

The fireball passed northwestward and accompanied with a noise like the reverberation of thunder has been observed. This phenomenon has been marked in the radius about 160 km. At the end point of the trajectory the fireball was broken up and disappea­red at the height about 10 or 12 km above the earth’s surface.  The meteorite was found near the predicted point of the fall, in the village Ibitira.  It lay in a hole in the ground about 25 cm deep and 20 cm in diameter. The meteorite has a brilliant black crust, and a light brown.

Ibitira meteorite
Ibitira meteorite, showing fusion crust and vesicles. Specimen measures ~ 4" at widest point. Photo ⓒ ASU/CMS/D. Ball.
Eucrites are the most common type of achondrite meteorite falls (vs. finds) and are believed to form from cooling of magma on the surface of Asteroid 4-Vesta; the number 4 refers to Vesta being the fourth asteroid ever discovered, in March of 1807, by German astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers.

In 2007, NASA launched the Dawn mission to study Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres, and to provide insight into the formation and evolution of solid bodies in the early Solar System using a visible camera, a visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, and a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer.  The extremely detailed images Dawn captured of Vesta's surface enabled the compilation of high-resolution global geological and tectonic maps of Vesta, published in the journal Icarus by a scientific team led by ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration Associate Research Professor Dr. David Williams.

Ibitira exhibits vesicles, which are a very rare occurence in meteorites given that most do not crystalize from a melt.  Read more about vesicles in meteorites, here!

Only one piece of the Ibitira meteorite has been recovered, with a mass of 2.5 kg.

Ibitira thin section
Photo of Ibitira meteorite in thin section. ⓒ ASU/CMS/L. Garvie.

ASU receives the first extraterrestrial mud ball in 50 years

On April 23 at 9:09 p.m. local time, residents of Aguas Zarcas, a small town in Costa Rica, saw a large “fireball” in the sky.

The reported fireball was a meteor about the size of a washing machine. As it entered Earth’s atmosphere, it broke apart and rained hundreds of meteorites in and around the small town, including a two-pound rock that crashed through the roof of a local house, smashing the dining room table below.

While meteorite falls happen around the world on a regular basis, early reports indicated that this meteorite belongs to a special group called "carbonaceous chondrites" that are rich in organic compounds and full of water. 

“Many carbonaceous chondrites are mud balls that are between 80 and 95% clay,” said Laurence Garvie, a research professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and a curator for Arizona State University's Center for Meteorite Studies. “Clays are important because water is an integral part of their structure.”

From these early reports, the race was on to collect samples and bring them back to labs around the world for scientific analysis.

“These had to be collected quickly and before they got rained on,” Garvie explained. “Because they are mostly clay, as soon as these types of meteorites get wet, they fall apart.”

Fortunately, meteorite collectors had five rain-free days in the region to collect samples from the fall. About 55 pounds of meteorites (collectively the size of a large beach ball) have been recovered so far. 

As of last week, ASU has acquired several meteorite samples from the Aguas Zarcas fall, which were donated by meteorite collector Michael Farmer. Farmer traveled to Costa Rica immediately after the meteorite fall to purchase and collect the meteorites from residents of Aguas Zarcas. A private donor has also provided funds for ASU to purchase additional meteorite samples from this fall. 

Aguas Zarcas meteorite samples, donated to ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies by private collector, Michael Farmer. Photo: ASU/CMS/Garvie.

ASU leads classification of Aguas Zarcas meteorite fall

Once Garvie had the donated samples, he rushed back to the lab on ASU’s Tempe campus to run the analyses needed to determine the classification of the meteorites. He is now leading an international classification effort.

“I was in the lab by 5 a.m. the next morning after picking up the samples to get them ready for the initial analyses,” Garvie said. “Classification of new meteorites can be like a race with other institutions, and I needed ASU to be first so that we’ll have the recognition of being the collection that holds and curates the type specimen material.” 

ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies has a specialized curatorial facility for meteorites, one that rivals many other international facilities. In particular, ASU has nitrogen cabinets for storage of particularly air-sensitive meteorites where the nitrogen atmosphere preserves the meteorites and stops their degradation. 

“If you left this carbonaceous chondrite in the air, it would lose some of its extraterrestrial affinities,” Garvie explained. “These meteorites have to be curated in a way that they can be used for current and future research, and we have that ability here at ASU.” 

For the meteorite classification process, Garvie is working with Karen Ziegler from the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico. In her lab, Ziegler analyzed the samples for their oxygen isotopes, which helps determine what characteristics this meteorite shares with other carbonaceous chondrites.

Garvie is also working with ASU School of Molecular Sciences’ Professor Emerita Sandra Pizzarello, an organic chemist known for her work with carbonaceous chondrite meteorites. Pizzarello’s analysis is helping to determine the organic inventory of the sample, which may provide insights into whether these types of meteorites provided the ingredients for the origins of life on Earth. 

Ultimately, the meteorites will be approved, classified and named by the Meteoritical Society’s nomenclature committee, an international team of 12 scientists who approve all new classified meteorites. This approval is the first and most important step of an in-depth scientific analysis.

  • A meteorite from the Aguas Zarcas fall pierced the roof of a doghouse, narrowly missing the sleeping dog, aptly named Rocky. Mike Farmer, who donated samples of the meteorite to ASU, is pictured here in Aguas Zarcas with "Rocky" and another dog, both unharmed by the meteorite fall. Photo courtesy of Michael Farmer

Nature has said, 'Here you are!'

Because of their water-rich composition, carbonaceous chondrites can provide insights into how we may be able to extract water from asteroids in space as a resource beyond Earth.

“Having this meteorite in our lab gives us the ability, with further analysis, to ultimately develop technologies to extract water from asteroids in space,” Garvie said. 

Garvie and his team, as well as scientists around the world, will be analyzing these meteorites — for years to come — for new insights about water extraction from meteorites as well as insights into the origins of the solar system and the organic process.  

“Nature has said ‘here you are,’ and now we have to be smart enough to tease apart the individual components and understand what they are telling us,” Garvie said.

Carbonaceous chondrites

The Costa Rican meteorite comes from an asteroid that was an early planet (planetesimal) that had water and organic materials. “It formed in an environment free of life, then was preserved in the cold and vacuum of space for 4.56 billion years, and then dropped in Costa Rica last week,” Garvie explained.

By happenstance, the last carbonaceous chondrites meteorite fall of this significance happened 50 years ago in 1969 and was curated by another ASU professor and founding director of ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies, Carleton Moore, who is now an ASU emeritus Regents’ Professor. The meteorite fell to Earth near Murchison, Australia, in 1969 and is one of the most studied meteorites in the world.

"Carbonaceous chondrites are relatively rare among meteorites but are some of the most sought-after by researchers because they contain the best-preserved clues to the origin of the solar system,” center Director Meenakshi Wadhwa said. “This new meteorite represents one of the most scientifically significant additions to our wonderful collection in recent years.”

The other ASU connection with this recent Costa Rican meteorite fall is that the samples closely resemble what scientists are discovering on the OSIRIS-REx mission to the asteroid Bennu, on which ASU has the Phil Christensen-designed Thermal Emissions Spectrometer (OTES). This instrument is making mineral and temperature maps of the asteroid Bennu, which is thought to be composed of a remnant carbonaceous chondrite planetesimal. 

Sample on display and open to the public at ASU

Samples from this meteorite fall, and many others, are on display for the public on the ASU Tempe campus in the Center for Meteorite Studies collection on the second floor of the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV. 

ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies is home to the world’s largest university-based meteorite collection, with over 40,000 individual specimens representing more than 2,100 distinct meteorite falls and finds. The collection is actively used for geological, planetary and space science research at ASU and throughout the world.

Karin Valentine
Media Relations & Marketing Manager
School of Earth and Space Exploration

Team finds tiny fragment of a comet inside a meteorite

Center Research Scientist Dr. Jemma Davidson is part of a team that discovered a carbon-rich fragment inside the primitive asteroidal meteorite, LaPaz Icefield 02342, found in Antarctica.  The team was led by the Carnegie Institution for Science's Larry Nittler, and the discovery was recently published in Nature Astronomy.

Read the article in Nature Astronomy here!

Read more and see photos at ASU Now (excerpt below)!

Comet Halley 1
Thumbnail of image Comet P/Halley as taken March 8, 1986 by W. Liller, Easter Island, part of the International Halley Watch (IHW) Large Scale Phenomena Network.

A tiny piece of the building blocks from which comets formed has been discovered inside a primitive meteorite. The discovery by a Carnegie Institution for Science-led team, including a researcher now at Arizona State University, was published April 15 in Nature Astronomy.

The finding could offer clues to the formation, structure and evolution of the solar system.

"The meteorite is named LaPaz Icefield 02342," said research scientist Jemma Davidson, of ASU's Center for Meteorite Studies in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. "The name comes from where it was found in Antarctica's LaPaz Icefield."

She adds that it belongs to a class of primitive carbonaceous chondrite meteorites that have undergone minimal changes since they formed more than 4.5 billion years ago, likely beyond the orbit of Jupiter.
Carbon-rich fragment
The carbon-rich fragment the material comets are built from is colored red in this scanning electron microscope image. The scale bar shows its size. Image by Larry Nittler/Carnegie Institution for Science.

 

2018 Nininger Meteorite Award winners announced

The ASU Center for Meteorite Studies is pleased to announce that Jonathan Lewis, a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow at Johnson Space Center is the recipient of the 2018 Nininger Meteorite Award, and Zachary Torrano, a Ph.D. Candidate in the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration received an Honorable Mention for the award.

The Nininger Meteorite Award recognizes outstanding student achievement in the meteoritical sciences, as embodied by an original research paper.

Jonathan LewisJonathan’s paper “Chondrule porosity in the L4 chondrite Saratov: Dissolution, chemical transport, and fluid flow” (coauthored by Rhian Jones and Serafina Garcea) takes a close look at chondrule porosity to understand the chemical and physical effects of fluids present during thermal metamorphism.

Zack TorranoZack's paper "Titanium isotope signatures of calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions from CV and CK chondrites: Implications for early Solar System reservoirs and mixing", investigates whether the isotope compositions of previously analyzed calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions (CAIs) are representative of CAIs from other chondrites and chondrite groups and, by extension, the broader CAI-forming region in the solar nebula.

Read more about the award, and this year's recipients' research, here!

Langwies

May's Meteorite of the Month is Langwies, an ordinary (H6) chondrite found May 19, 1985, just south of the village of Langwies, canton Graubunden, Switzerland.

Langwies is a unique meteorite in that the only piece known, a 16.5 g weathered and fusion crusted piece, was found in a glacial moraine.

To date, 11 meteorites have been found in Switzerland, including 7 ordinary chondrites, 3 iron meteorites, and 1 pallasite.

Langwies