The Meteorite from Mars (+)

When a meteorite plowed into the earth near the Moroccan town of Tissint in 2011, it provided scientists with intriguing new clues to the evolution of our solar system.

Nanomineralogist Chi Ma, who studied samples of the meteorite firsthand, identified two new minerals from the meteorite, as we reported in our Spring 2015 issue of E&S, in the article “They Came From Outer Space.

But Ma is far from alone in his interest in this out-of-this-world object. Natural History Museum of London meteorite expert Caroline Smith discusses why in this four-minute video, highlighting the significance of the meteorite’s discovery. She notes it is one of only 130 meteorites on Earth known to have originated from Mars.

Smith says the find was a rare one because witnesses actually saw the meteor that heralded its fall to Earth. (Strictly speaking, a meteor is the flash or streak of light resulting from interplanetary debris burning up in the atmosphere. A meteoroid is the solid debris that originates in space before its impact with the earth’s surface. A meteoroid that survives impact with Earth’s surface is called a meteorite. Hence, the Tissint sample, is a meteorite.)

Having witnesses who saw the meteorite’s fall to Earth made it easy to locate quickly. And that, as Smith notes in the video, is crucial because, “if you’re interested in studying organic molecules . . . you want to get your hands on the least contaminated meteorites.” The longer the meteorite lays around, the more Earth stuff it’s likely to accumulate.

Ma says finds like the Tissint meteorite keep him constantly energized and surprised. For most people, the Next Big Thing in their careers seldom just falls from the sky. But for Ma, it just might.

—Written by Jon Nalick