Martian Meteors

Martian Meteors

     

Non Martian meteors

    

 I thought about titling this article as “valuable stones” but choose to use meteorites because that is exactly what can in certain situations be worth lots of money.  I did not know that.  I never realized meteorites could be worth money, that is until I watched a show called The Hunt for Amazing Treasures.  One of the segments was about a man named Bob Verish who for years collected rocks as a hobby out in Southern California in the Mojave Desert with his metal detector.  Rocks with specific metallic components will be picked up by metal detectors.             

          As the years passed his collection of rocks grew requiring lots of stacked containers needed for storage.  After eighteen years the spouse wanted him to get rid of most of his collection.  As he sorted through them he noticed two shiny black rocks that stood out from the others.  He suspected they were meteorites and was aware that meteorites are not as common as I thought they were.  Only about 50,000 meteors have ever been found.  As a kid, my friends and I would pick up shiny brown rocks that I had been told were meteors.  I now realize mine quite obviously were not.  Funny how 50 years later I am just now realizing my discoveries were only rocks, not meteors.  The two black ones that Bob restudied seemed to have a different color speckled in them and suspected they were at least unusual enough to have them checked out by mineral scientists at a university and a museum. 

       It turns out the chemical composition of the two meteorites match the atmospheric conditions on Mars.  What does that mean I thought?  In 1976 NASA  began measuring and studying the surface conditions and atmosphere of Mars with the Viking landers, equipment sent by NASA to land directly on the surface of Mars to do such research.  Because of their research scientists had some understanding of the inorganic composition of the mantle of the surface of Mars and what the chemical composition of rocks from Mars would contain.  Since that time it was realized that some meteors discovered on earth may have come from Mars.  In other words some meteors found on earth had the chemical makeup of what rocks on Mars would have.  At the time Bob Verish’s discovery there had been only a little over a dozen Martian rocks found on the earth and his two are the only known ones from North America.  They have since been named Los Angeles 001 and Los Angeles 002, part of the same meteor.  I was a little confused.  I thought meteors were stars or asteroids that burned up upon entering the earth’s atmosphere.  So how did Mars meteors get here if Mars never burned up?

 

Los Angeles meteor 001

 

Los Angeles meteor 002

 

        Scientists believe some of the higher mountains on Mars have been struck by comets or meteors which caused a portion of the mountains to fracture into pieces some which got shot up into space.  Some were thrust so high up that they escaped the gravitational forces of Mars but were picked up by the Earth’s gravity.  The rock portions that came to earth fragmented and burned as they descended to the surface.  Since his meteorite discovery or realization that his rocks were indeed meteors there have been dozens more Martian meteorites found in other parts of the world.

       His finding was so rare that at the time some of the estimates for his meteors were valued at over $500,000.  I think one of the meteors is in a museum in Los Angeles.  I have no idea if he sold the other or not, or if it is worth near that much.  I do know he sure relishes his treasure of hunting for valuable rocks.  The hunt is as much a  treasure as are the rocks or meteors.

       By the way, one of my rocks I found as a kid was rough but perfectly round, about two inches in diameter, and I was so fond of it I actually painted it black.  I kept that black rock for many years thinking it was a meteor.  I still think it might have been a meteor, at least that is how I will remember my treasure.