|Weight: ||1,282 grams|
|Specimen: ||Main Mass|
|Location: ||Oued Drâa valley, Morocco|
|Classification: ||Olivine-Phyric Shergottite|
|Date: ||Fell - July 18, 2011|
|TKW: ||> 7,000 grams|
Largest intact specimen from the July 18, 2011, witnessed meteorite fall in Morocco. Specimen features primary fusion crust, secondary fusion crust, terrestrial impact markings and breaks revealing the dramatic interior matrix.
Tissint Main Mass
The main mass of a meteorite is the single largest specimen from a given meteorite event. If there is only one meteorite associated with a given event, then that specimen is the main mass. The Tissint event, however, was a meteorite shower... many meteorites rained down upon the Earth's surface, and as is the case with all meteorite showers, it requires time before the main mass — the most sought after of all specimens — can be determined.
The Natural History Museum (formerly the British Museum of Natural History) acquired what was thought to be the Tissint main mass in February 2012. Now a centerpiece of the Natural History Museum's collection, this specimen weighs 1,099 grams (2.5 pounds). Drs. Caroline Smith and Sara Russell arrived from London to New York City to transport the specimen to its final resting place. Before they left New York, they brought the specimen to the headquarters of The New York Times, and the newspaper published an article heralding the Museum's acquisition. Several weeks later, a slightly larger mass was recovered. Weighing 1,282 grams, it is the single largest meteorite originating from the Tissint event, and it is a complete meteorite, unlike the the Natural History Museum's specimen which is a large broken fragment.
The Tissint meteorite shower of 2011 was a small shower of Martian meteorites acknowledged by The Meteoritical Society, the foremost and only international society of hundreds of scientists who study such phenomena. The Society publishes The Meteoritical Bulletin, which is the first, last and only word on meteorites sanctioned by the international scientific community. The scientific abstract published on any given new meteorite is authored by a member of the Meteoritical Society and prior to publication the submission is vetted by a panel of scientists on the Society's Nomenclature Committee.
Named by the scientists on the Nomenclature Committee after the Tissint oasis where the meteorite shower occurred, Tissint meteorites were officially declared to have originated from the Martian surface in the Meteoritical Bulletin of January 17, 2012. To better understand how an event of this nature could possibly occur and how it was proven, here is an explanation of Martian origin.
As was verified by Society member Professor Hasna Chennaoui of Hassan II University in Casablanca, a bright fireball was seen by numerous persons at approximately 2:00 am on July 18, 2011 in the Oued Draa Valley east of Tata, Morocco, approximately 275 miles south of Casablanca. One eyewitness indicated that the fireball was first yellow and then green before it seemingly split into two. Accompanying the visual phenomena were sonic booms, the result of the fireball traveling well beyond the speed of sound while entering Earth's atmosphere. While specimens of this event were first located in late October, it took until mid-December for the main area of the strewn field to be located and defined, and it was at that time that the recovery of small complete meteorites and numerous small fragments occurred — the result of some meteorites having shattered upon striking rocky outcroppings. Tissint specimens were initially sold by Moroccan middlemen to Europeans and Americans for as little as 1,300 Moroccan Dirhams ("MAD") per gram (€120 or $160/gram). As demand rapidly escalated, so did wholesale prices which peaked at MAD 5,000/gram (€450 or $600/gram] as the material exhausted. Specimens of Tissint today retail for anywhere between $500-1200/gram (€375-900/gram) depending on size, completeness and aesthetic considerations.
The vast majority the world's foremost natural history museums and research institutions have acquired Tissint specimens. The Natural History Museum in London paid mid six figures to backplate for a 1,099 gram specimen — among the highest amounts ever paid for a meteorite. Museum personnel acknowledge the substantial discount the Museum was provided. Said Dr. Caroline Smith, "We are extremely grateful for Darryl's and Dave's generosity, knowing full well they could have sold this meteorite for much more." Said backplate partner Dave Gheesling, "While we certainly could have earned far more selling this specimen elsewhere, there was no discussion of this historic specimen going anywhere other than a major museum for future generations to enjoy."
The complete Meteoritical Bulletin abstract on Tissint can be found on The Meteoritical Society Website.
Intro to Meteorites
Meteorites have held the fascination of mankind since the dawn of civilization. Dozens of meteorites are known to have been venerated and every major religion has a parable seeded by a meteorite impact.
Meteorites — not to be confused with meteors, the luminescent phenomena in the night sky — are fragments of natural material from outer space that impact Earth. Named after the closest city, geological feature, or post office to which they are “delivered,” meteorites originate from asteroids, comets, the Moon and Mars. Unlike meteor showers, which result from Earth's predictable, annual passage through cometary tails, meteorite showers are almost never predictable.
Meteorites are of great interest to scientists as they contain a tremendous amount of information concerning the formation of our solar system. In addition, it has been hypothesized not only that a meteorite led to the demise of the dinosaurs (allowing the opportunity for human life to evolve), but also that meteorites transported to Earth the precursors to life itself, more than four billion years ago. Organic molecules, including amino acids, have been found in some meteorites, resulting in the increasingly popular Panspermia Theory of Creation: life having been “seeded” on Earth by extraterrestrial impact.
The combined mass of all known meteorites is less than the world’s annual output of gold, and private collectors have been making the little excess material that does exist into one of the most in-demand collectibles today.
There are three broad categories of meteorites: stones (representing approximately 94% of all meteorites), irons (5%); and stony irons (1%). Stone meteorites quickly terrestrialize or become "weathered" after impact. To the uninitiated, stones typically appear to be of an Earthly origin, and recovery is problematic unless the impact is witnessed or the meteorite lands in an environment where it is easily detected. Iron meteorites are comprised primarily of iron and nickel, are more resistant to Earth’s elemental forces and are more easily recognized. On average, they are composed of 90% iron, 8% nickel, and 2% trace elements. The amount of nickel determines the type of crystalline pattern that will form, referred to as either a Widmanstätten or acid-etch pattern. This singularly dazzling crystalline latticework is unique to meteorites, and therefore diagnostic in the identification of meteorites.
Stony-irons, as the name indicates, are a combination of the stone and iron types and the most resplendent of all, frequently containing crystals of translucent olivine suspended in a nickel-iron matrix.
For a meteorite to be analyzed by scientists it must be broken or cut; only when multiple specimens of the same meteorite are recovered can complete specimens exist. In the event you have found what you believe to be a meteorite, you are urged to contact a sanctioned meteorite identification service, as each newly discovered meteorite is a possible Rosetta Stone that can assist in unlocking the mystery of creation.
Scientists agree that the impact of a large asteroid on the Martian surface launched chunks of Mars into space — portions of which landed on Earth. There are numerous compositional and isotopic features that are unique to Mars — which assists scientists in the determination of Martian origin. Several samples are known to contain tiny bubbles...with tiny volumes of gas...which match the composition of the Martian atmosphere as determined by NASA's Viking missions.
As of June 1, 2012, there are only 61 different Martian meteorites known to exist. The number would be somewhat larger if we included those meteorites which are found at different times in a similar location, which are later determined to originate from the same impact event. The total weight of every Martian meteorite known to exist is approximately 115 kilograms or 250 pounds. (By way of comparison, 2500 tons of gold as well as 8 tons of gem quality diamonds are mined every single year.) Clearly, specimens of the planet Mars are among the rarest objects on Earth. Moreover, of the 250 pounds of Martian material in existence, 60 pounds (nearly 25%) is forever off-limits to the private sector as it was recovered in Antarctica on scientific expeditions and controlled by a consortium of governments.
Specimens of the planet Mars are among the rarest and most unobtainable substances on Earth. Unlike the 841 pounds of lunar specimens recovered by NASA's Apollo astronauts, the only samples of Mars are meteorites, and the offering of the Tissint Martian samples seen here will forever be among the most preeminent of Martian specimens.
Proof of Martian Origin
The scientific community universally agrees that as of June 1, 2012, there are 61 distinct Martian meteorites whose total weight is less than 250 pounds.
In 1995, Science magazine announced that minute volumes of gas trapped in tiny bubbles found within a suspected Martian meteorite matched the atmospheric composition of Mars (as determined by NASA's unmanned Viking lander in 1976). Prior to the announcement of this smoking gun of Martian origin, the belief that a select group of meteorites originated from Mars was based on the following:
Scientists were puzzled by a handful of meteorites which contained minerals that could only form following water alteration. As there is no water in the asteroid belt — the source of 99% of all meteorites — they did not originate in the asteroid belt. In addition, these meteorites not contained evidence of having crystallized under the influence of a planetary-sized — yet smaller than Earth's — gravitational field, and also contained levels of cosmic radiation consistent with having originated in the inner solar system. As a result of the foregoing, scientists were certain that such meteorites originated from Venus or Mars, and were believed to be Martian as it would be more difficult for an object to escape the Venusian surface after an asteroid impact given that Venus has a stronger gravitational field and thicker atmosphere. And so for decades this small class of meteorites was suspected to have originated from Mars — and then the aforementioned proof arrived.
In the past twenty years the highly specific chemical signature of Martian meteorites has been further studied and refined with ever improved technology, and further links to Mars have been established.
The Tissint specimens offered here are guaranteed to have originated from the surface of the planet Mars.