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

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license 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.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid