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Meteorites

2 Posts tagged with the conference tag
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Last December, Epi Vaccaro (one of our PhD students) and I went to two scientific meetings in Tokyo, Japan. Our aims were to present some of the research that we’ve been doing at the Museum and to meet other scientists who work on similar samples and topics.

 

First up was the Fifth Symposium on Polar Science at the National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR). Since the early 1960s, the NIPR has used Antarctic stations to carry out research into a wide range of areas including climate, atmospheric science and biology. Fortunately for us, they are also interested in meteorites and, after several 'meteorite hunting'expeditions in the Antarctic, now have one of the largest collections in the world.

 

I spoke at the meeting (despite a serious case of jetlag!) about differences I have observed between the mineralogy of CI chondrites that were seen to fall to Earth, such as Orgueil, and those that have been recovered from the Antarctic. These CI meteorites are important as they show very similar characteristics to the surfaces of some asteroids that are soon(ish!) to be visited by space missions.

 

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Presentations were temporarily suspended at the NIPR meeting as we watched the launch of the Hayabusa-2 mission.

 

One of these missions is the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Hayabusa-2 spacecraft, which aims to collect material from a primitive asteroid and return it to Earth. We think that this material will allow us to learn more about water and life in the early solar system.

 

The samples won’t touch down on Earth until 2020 but the spacecraft was launched (after a few days delay) during our stay in Japan. I think that watching a tiny spacecraft being hurtled into space on the back of a rocket, whilst sitting alongside the people who have invested so much time and energy into the mission, was one of the most tense afternoons of my life!*

 

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Model of the Hayabusa spacecraft at the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

 

You may have guessed from its name that Hayabusa-2 is actually a follow up to the original Hayabusa spacecraft, which (despite a few bumps along the way) in 2010 became the first ever mission to collect material from an asteroid and bring it back to Earth.

 

Hayabusa 2014 Symposium at JAXA. The meeting covered diverse subjects such as space weathering and sample curation, and also included a talk by Epi on the challenges of analysing very small samples using non-destructive techniques.

 

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Epi presenting his work at the Hayabusa 2014 Symposium at JAXA.

 

Sample return missions are challenging and expensive but produce very exciting science, as I witnessed at JAXA. There are limits on what kinds of scientific experiments can be carried out remotely, but returned samples from the asteroid belt will provide a wealth of new information about our solar system’s past.

 

*You’ll be pleased to hear that the launch was successful and Hayabusa-2 is safely on its way.

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Next week is the Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society. This year it is being held in Morocco by scientists from Hassan II University of Casablanca. All of us in the Museum’s meteorite research team are heading out to Casablanca on Sunday for a week of presentations, discussions, networking and a great chance to explore some of Morocco.

 

epi.jpgThe Moroccan Atlas Mountains. A great place to go meteorite hunting! (Image credit: E. Vaccaro)

 

Many meteorites have been found in Morocco, including the Martian meteorite Tissint, so this is a very appropriate place for hundreds of meteorite-lovers to convene (the organisers have even named the conference meeting rooms after meteorites!).

 

Morocco has an abundance of meteorites because it is largely desert, and deserts are excellent places to look for odd, dark coloured rocks from space. Most of the meteorites found in this region are given the designation NWA (for North West Africa) as it is not always known exactly where they fell before they were passed on to collectors and institutions by meteorite dealers. 

 

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Museum scientist Dr Caroline Smith holds the Tissint meteorite. It is now the largest Martian meteorite in the Natural History Museum collections.

 

Museum research being presented at the meeting includes:

  • Professor Sara Russell on the new carbonaceous chondrite, Jbilet Winselwan.
  • Dr Caroline Smith on planning for Mars sample return missions.
  • Dr Penny Wozniakiewicz on collecting and identifying micrometeorites.
  • Dr Ashley King on fine-grained rims in CM chondrites.
  • Dr Jennifer Claydon on the Al-Mg system in chondrules.
  • Dr Natasha Stephen on mapping Martian meteorites.
  • PhD student Epifanio Vaccaro on characterising primitive meteorite matrix.
  • PhD student Natasha Almeida on using CT to study the interiors of meteorites.

 

We hope to keep you updated on the Meteoritical Society Meeting via our blog and our Twitter account @NHM_Meteorites.

 

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And here's what one of our PhD students, Epi, got up to on his last time in Morocco! (Image credit: E Vaccaro)