BAN #173: A piece — well lots of very small pieces — of the Moon of my own

09 December 2019 Issue #173

[Saturn image credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute / Gordan Ugarkovic]


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A Bit o’ Science

The entirety of science is too much for one sitting. Here’s a morsel for you.

If you’re at all familiar with my writing, you may remember I love meteorites. I started collecting them many years ago — my first ever purchase was a letter opener made out of an iron meteorite — and over the years I’ve picked up quite a few.

To be clear, I don’t mean I’ve literally picked them up off the ground! I mean I’ve bought them. Sometimes I got them off eBay, sometimes from dealers directly. And yes, there are actually licensed dealers, and if you ever decide to buy any meteorites you should make very sure your dealer is certified; otherwise you might be buying a piece of slag or just some rock.

A top-notch company is Aerolite Meteorites. Now, full disclosure: Geoffrey Notkin, the CEO and founder of the company, is also a dear friend of mine. You may have seen him on the Discovery Channel show Meteorite Men — he has traveled the world hunting for extraterrestrial rocks. His being a friend and the driving force behind Aerolites is not really a coincidence; the same reasons I like him are why Aerolite is such a good company. He is a kind, big-hearted guy, and he loves meteorites: He loves finding them, he loves selling them, and he loves talking about them. Maybe even more than I do.

Every year he takes a big chunk of his merchandise to the Denver Gem and Mineral Show, a huge (and I mean huge) show that goes on every September. I ‘ve gone a few times to buy small meteorites myself (like the ones I gave away back when I started this newsletter… and hmmm, maybe it’s time to do that again. Stay tuned!). Geoffrey was there this year, so my wife (who also loves him) and I made the trek to the city to see him. As always, I drooled over his collection, wishing I had the spare hundred grand or two to buy a pile of the bigger iron meteorites he has.

[Credit: Phil Plait]

He showed me a gorgeous slice of a lunar meteorite he has, called NWA 11303; some time in the distant past an asteroid whacked the Moon and blasted out a lot of debris, and a 6-kilo chunk fell to Earth, landing in Mauritania (a common place to find meteorites due to the dry climate and flat territory, making rocks like this easier to spot). The meteorite is brecciated (made up of lots of smaller broken pieces) feldspar, a common mineral in the lunar crust.

[Credit: Phil Plait]

After we took that picture, he handed me a small vial. I knew instantly what was in it: lunar dust. To my shock, he gave it to me to keep! Take a look:

[Credit: Phil Plait]

This dust was made when Geoffrey had the lunar meteorite NWA 11474 sliced up to sell. The saw creates the dust, which he collected and put into the vial. The total weight is 0.2 grams, which may not seem like very much… but it’s dust from the Moon.

Note the dark color! A lot of the Moon’s surface is basalt, which is quite dark. It only looks bright because the Moon sits out in space in full sunlight, so our sense of contrast gets a little messed up. The average albedo (reflectivity) of the Moon is only about 12% (so 12% of sunlight hitting it gets reflected; the rest is absorbed), making it actually pretty dark. The dust makes that pretty obvious. Like 11303 it’s a feldspathic breccia, dark, and has some pyroxene and olivine in it too. The slices of it Geoffrey sells are quite lovely.

This is now a treasured part of my collection… though I’m not exactly sure how to display it. My office is a mess, and I really need to install shelves and get my collection samples out of their boxes and into the light. It’s a really incredible feeling to hold a piece of space in your hand, one unaltered by eons of Earthly erosion and reprocessing, knowing it came from the Moon or Mars or an asteroid that may no longer exist.

Mind you, it’s not exactly an inexpensive hobby! It’s taken me years to build up my own pieces, finding bargains when I can. It helps too when a world-renowned collector gives you something.

So if you’re interested, peruse his site (or any of the many other qualified dealers out there) and take a look at pieces of space brought to Earth. And if you’re ever in Tucson, pay his shop a visit and tell him I sent you!


Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[The impact site of India’s Vikram lunar lander, from Tuesday’s post. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University]

Monday 02 December, 2019: Q: How did this black hole get so big? A: Maybe it's really two black holes. (note: It turns out it’s not two black holes; I explain in an update in the text)

Tuesday 03 December, 2019: Debris from India's crashed lunar lander found on the Moon's surface

Wednesday 04 December, 2019: Earth had a minimoon, but then it burned up in our atmosphere

Thursday 05 December, 2019: A white dwarf is cooking a giant planet and slowly eating it

Friday 06 December, 2019: TESS saw the comet 47/P Wirtanen undergo an outburst after a debris impact


Et alia

You can email me at thebadastronomer@gmail.com (though replies can take a while), and all my social media outlets are gathered together at about.me. Also, if you don’t already, please subscribe to this newsletter! And feel free to tell a friend or nine, too. Thanks!