SKY & TELESCOPE'S NEWS BULLETIN - FEBRUARY 4, 2000
NEW MARTIAN METEORITE DISCOVERED IN CALIFORNIA
About 20 years ago, Robert S. Verish was on a rock-collecting trip in Southern California's Mojave Desert. While walking around, he spotted a couple of dark basaltic rocks. Interested, Verish scooped them up, took them home, and put them in a box for safe keeping.
It wasn't until last October that Verish realized he stumbled upon a great find. While cleaning, he noticed that the rocks he collected looked surprising like meteorites. Excited, he brought samples of each rock to geochemist Alan Rubin (University of California, Los Angeles). Rubin confirmed the rocks to be meteorites and noted the similarity they had to a Martian meteorite discovered in Antarctica in 1994. "It was immediately obvious it was similar to Martian meteorites," says Rubin. "Within two minutes we were convinced."
"There may be other pieces out there," Rubin notes. "The problem is we don't know where 'out there' is. If we knew specifically where it was, we could look out there for more."
This find brings the current number of known Martian meteorites to 14, and the Los Angeles meteorites are only the second piece of Mars to be found in the United States. The first, named Lafayette, was discovered in Indiana in 1931.
Meteorites are known to be of Martian origin largely for two reasons. First, gases trapped in the rock match that of the Martian atmosphere. Second, the rock's oxygen isotopic ratios are unlike other meteorites or any Earth rock, but they match the ratios found on Mars. The rocks were likely ejected from Mars during a large impact event, making their way to Earth in less than a million years.
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