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Swiss geologists find Mars meteorite in the Sultanate of Oman

View of Mars meteorite Sayh al Uhaymir 094 on desert soil. Maximum size of the meteorite is 7 cm.
Bern - June 18, 2001
Geologists from Bern University and from the Natural History Museum Bern have found more than 180 meteorites in Oman in January/February 2001. The most exciting find is a piece of Mars rock.

This meteorite just received its name: Sayh al Uhaymir 094. Contrary to other finds of Mars meteorites in deserts, this meteorite is fully available to science. Detailed investigations are currently under way at Bern University and at collaborating institutions.

Just 18 meteorites from Mars are known today. Some have been fragmented during their fall. Sayh al Uhaymir 094 is a fragment of the 16 th known Mars meteorite.

The geologic past of Mars, including the fate of water, as well as the search for evidence of possible past life on Mars are research areas in which Mars meteorites play a key role.

Meteorites from the red planet are of extreme scientific value because they are the only solid material available for about 10 years to come. If all goes well, about 500 g of Mars samples will then be returned to Earth at very high costs by spacecraft.

Sayh al Uhaymir 094: a window into Mars's past

SaU 094 is, besides the antarctic finds, the only Mars meteorite fully available to science. Applying modern analytical tools at Bern University, the mineralogical characterization was possible using tiny fragments.

The nature of the minerals as well as their chemical composition clearly demonstrate that SaU 094 is a Mars meteorite. It is a piece of rock that was formed from molten lava, similar to volcanic rocks on Earth. The origin from Mars is supported by measurements of oxygen isotopes (Ian Franchi, Open University, UK).

Using X-ray tomography at EMPA, Dübendorf (Switzerland), the interior of the rock was investigated nondestructively. An interesting result of this investigation is the occurrence of many cavities up to several millimetres in size, probably an effect of intense mechanical stress during ejection from Mars.

For detailed analyses samples will be cut from this stone. The majority of these analyses (mineralogy, chemical composition, noble gases, age determination etc) will be conducted at Bern University. The availability of SaU 094 provides a new focal point for Swiss Mars science.

Why are so many meteorites found in Oman? Meteorite falls are very rare. Only where the surface of the Earth remains undisturbed and dry for very long times meteorites accumulate over thousands of years. Enrichments of this type were first detected in Antarctica and since about 10 years deserts are being searched for meteorites systematically.

From the Sahara about 2000 meteorites are known already. The Sultanate of Oman has become known as an important collection area for meteorites just in the past two years with six Lunar and two Martian meteorites found so far in Oman.

Related Links
Additional Images From This Discovery
Natural History Museum Bern
Institute of Mineralogy and Petrology, University of Bern
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Mars Invades Earth
Cameron Park - June 4, 2001
In the wake of the latest report on preparing for samples from Mars, the old arguments for and against have again taken center stage in this perennial debate. The basic argument against returning Mars samples is that the chances that "extant" (that is, still-living) microbes still exist on Mars are higher than NASA is making out, and that there is a genuine and serious chance that such microbes might prove harmful to Earth's biosphere -- and perhaps to human beings themselves. How accurate is this?

Prepare Now For Martian Samples Warns Scientists
Washington - May 29, 2001
Work on a quarantine facility must begin soon if it is to be ready in time for spacecraft returning to Earth with martian rocks and soil in tow, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council.

Rocks From Mars
Cameron Park - May 1, 2001
As could be expected this year's Lunar and Planetary Science Conference saw continuing debate on whether Mars has ever had life. Central among this debate is a rock called ALH84001. In the final part of our multi part series on Mars Science 2001, Bruce Moomaw surveys the quest for life on a fuzz ball called Mars.

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