News / Science & Technology

Scientists Confirm Martian Origin of Moroccan Meteorites

Image of the 58 g Tissint specimen from the University of Alberta Meteorite Collection.
Image of the 58 g Tissint specimen from the University of Alberta Meteorite Collection.
Jessica Berman

Scientists have confirmed that a rocky meteor that broke apart in the atmosphere and crashed last July came from Mars.  The space-faring stones, perhaps blasted free of the Red Planet by an ancient planetary collision, are the first documented Martian debris to fall to Earth in 50 years.  The rare meteorites have been scooped from the African sands by collectors and dealers, who are selling them for thousands of dollars.

The Martian meteor's fiery fall through Earth’s atmosphere last year was seen by Moroccan nomads and military personnel.  At about 2:00 a.m. local time on July 18, they were startled by sonic booms and a fireball that one witness said lit the night sky with a yellow and then a green glow, before breaking into pieces and disappearing into the remote desert.

Pieces of that meteor were not located until October, when nomads found the black, heat-scorched stones near the Moroccan village of Tissint. Soon, samples were collected for analysis by scientists, including the international committee of experts that confirmed the meteorites' Martian origin.

Experts say the meteor, officially named Tissint by The Meteoritical Society, probably took millions of years to get here after an asteroid or some other large object collided with the Red Planet and blasted thousands of chunks of Martian rock into space.

Chunks of the meteor that struck Earth totaled 6.8 kilograms, with the largest weighing almost a kilogram.

Christopher Herd, a professor of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta in Canada, headed the committee of scientists, including some from the U.S. space agency, NASA, that verified the meteorites came from Mars.

Herd says that compared to the four previous meteorites known to be of Martian origin, pieces of the Tissint meteor are especially good specimens because they were found shortly after landing in the Moroccan desert.

“It’s really fresh," said Herd. "It’s really glassy looking because it’s only been on the ground for a few months in a nice dry environment.  So, it hasn’t been affected in a big way by rain or even wind, that sort of thing that does occasionally happen in the desert.”

As soon as Moroccan nomads located the impact site, meteorite hunters moved in to snatch up pieces of the valuable rocks, which have been selling for 10 times the price of gold.  Museum curators and scientists, including Herd, scrambled to buy the meteorites before all of them went to the highest bidder.

Herd says the first verified Mars rock to strike Earth in half-a-century offers scientists a rare opportunity to learn about the Red Planet.

“We have an incredible array of technology at our disposal now, as opposed to 50 years ago, where we can analyze this rock in amazing detail," he said. "Plus, because it’s only been on Earth for a few months, [that] means that it hasn’t been tremendously affected by weather.  So, what we analyze in these rocks is more likely to be Martian than from the Earth.”

Experts say that only about 100 kilograms of verified Martian rocks are known to exist in the world. But none is in such high demand as last year's fiery gift from the Red Planet.

You May Like

Amnesty: EU Failing Migrants, Refugees

Rights group says migrants, refugees subject to detention, extortion, beatings More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deali
X
July 07, 2015 12:02 PM
If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs