Northwest Africa, found 2015. Martian meteorite, shergottite, part slice. Weighing 1.6 grams and measuring 34 mm x 18 mm x 1 mm. NWA 11288 is interesting for several reasons, apart from the obvious fact that it’s from Mars. Only a small amount of this material was recovered—about 407 grams as per the scientific literature. More importantly, this meteorite contains vugs (cavities) and it was just such features that allowed Drs. Johnson and Bogard to retrieve the tiniest “breath” of Martian air from inside their Antarctic meteorite named Elephant Moraine 79001. This part slice exhibits cream and green hues and “shows a high abundance of vesicular glasses,” indicative of its volcanic origin.
It may sound like science fiction, but it is proven science fact: we have authenticated pieces of Mars here on Earth and they were not brought back by any kind of spaceflight mission—robotic or otherwise. Perhaps it is, in the end, the real Mars that enthralls the most; the tangible Mars, the Mars that meteorite collectors can actually hold in their hands—the Mars that gives us documented meteorites from the Red Planet. We know that pieces of the Red Planet fell here because of the robot Viking spacecraft that landed on Mars in 1976. Six years after those landings, Drs. Johnson and Bogard were studying an unusual meteorite, here on Earth; a meteorite with a most unusual name—Elephant Moraine 79001, found in Antarctica in 1979. The two scientists made an astonishing discovery: tiny amounts of gas trapped within vugs in the 79001 meteorite were a close match to the thin atmosphere of Mars, as recorded by the Viking landers.
The experiment was later repeated and confirmed by looking at several other Martian meteorites, clearly indicating their origin point. And what a fiery and furious life they’ve had! Blasted off the surface of their home planet by other meteorite impacts (the impactors likely being large asteroid fragments), they wandered in space until falling here. The improbable origin story of Martian meteorites makes them plenty rare—what are the chances that something would be blasted off a smaller planet that is, on average, 140 million miles away and then land on ours? Couple that with the fact that Martian meteorites are fragile; they are essentially cooled lava from another planet and contain little or no metal, meaning that—unlike most meteorites—metal detectors and magnets cannot be used to recover them, making them notoriously difficult to identify and recover in the field. Accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Aerolite Meteorites.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.