Cause I can’t get enough of Saturn

The Cassini mission really is like crack for me. I love digging through the raw images and seeing what comes up. It can be a bit of mixed back sometimes, but I enjoy the hunt of looking through all the unprocessed images and see what Cassini is churning out. This one of Enceladus may not be as dramatic as the one with the plumes, but I think the crescent shape adds a different flavor to my favorite moon.


*warning: mini geek-out in the next two paragraphs*

Yesterday morning I had a very humbling experience. I went to the meteorite lab on campus to talk to my instructor about my research project for the electron microprobe class. While looking at the different specimens, like the pallasite pictured above, I had a revelation of sorts: I was looking at pieces of planetismals and failed proto-planets. And some of these pieces are as old as the solar system itself.

Each meteorite tells us something different. It’s composition gives us an idea of where it came from and under what conditions it formed. Take the pallasite for example. It’s composed of large crystals of olivine embedded in an iron-nickel matrix, or body.  It is thought that these types of meteorites originated at the border between the mantle and the core. Normally, you wouldn’t find olivine floating around in the core. However, something had to hit and obliterate this young planet to cause such mixing. The earth has the same type of iron-nickel core with an olivine (and other minerals) producing mantle. Finding space debris like the pallasite furthers our understanding of our home planet.

Excuse the hyperbole, but I think that’s awesome. To look at and study a piece of a failed planet is awe-inspiring and humbling. It furthers my love of science and motivates me to learn more about the world around me. Most importantly, doing science is fun. The learning process is exciting and it never ends. And I hope to be able to spread that enthusiasm to others.

Carbonaceous Chondrite

Carbonaceous Chondrite

Carbonaceous chondrites are the rarest of all the meteorite specimens. Like most meteorites, there are composed of a matrix and chondrules. The matrix is basically the body of the meteorite.  In the case of the carbonaceous chondrite, it’s composed of soft minerals very similar to serpentine or montmorillonite (John A. Wood, The Solar System, 1979). Due to it’s composition, very few of these meteorites survive the entry into the earth’s atmosphere. Those that do face further weathering damage at the surface of the earth.

The chondrules are the rounded minerals that are studded into the matrix. They are mostly composed of olivine and orthopyroxene and are generally rounded in shape (like the picture shows). However, not all CC’s have chondrules. Some have these irregular inclusions that are composed of uncommon minerals such as spinel and grossular. These minerals have been enriched in “calcium, magnesium, aluminium and titanium relative to silicon” (Wood, 1979).


John A. Wood, The Solar System, 1979

Carbonaceous Chondrite Meteorites

Lord of the Rings

I know the title is a bit cliche when talking about Saturn, but it’s so appropriate. This is a raw image from the Cassini Mission that was taken just today. It’s not the most spectacular of images produced, but it’s beautiful none-the-less. These are the sorts of images that make me excited about science and space science in particular. When humans aren’t bickering with each other and work towards a common goal (science related or not) we are capable of great things. In short, this image makes me optimistic for the future and what humanity can truly accomplish.

Space Rocks

This summer I get to do my very first independent research project. I’ll be helping one of my geology professors finish classifying a meteorite with the use of an electron microprobe. This is my first time doing such a project and as such I have a lot to learn. But that’s the exciting part of doing science: the continual learning process. So, as such I figured it was time for me to learn about meteorites. Or meteors. Or meteoroids. Each name means something different. And according to my instructor, the classification has been changing lately. So, in my efforts to learn the basics about these ancient pieces of space debris, I will be posting what I’ve learned in my blog. To start, those confusing names.

It turns out the terms meteor, meteorite and meteoroide are not interchangeable. They seem to refer to the phases of change space debris goes through as it enters the earth’s atmosphere. This rock can come from the moon, comets, asteroids or even other rocky planets (most notably Alan Hills 84001 from Mars- that deserves a post of it’s own). Some of it can be left over material from the formation of the solar system, almost 4.5 billions years old. While their origins differ they pretty much go through the same process upon encountering the earth’s atmosphere.

The difference between the three names used to be simple. The flash of light produced by the entering debris was a meteor. Any chunks of rock that broke off were the meteoroids. And any piece that didn’t disintegrate in the earth’s atmosphere and made it’s way to the surface was a meteorite.

However, a paper recently published in Meteoritics & Planetary Science by Alan E. Rubin and Jeffrey N. Grossman proposed a complete overhaul of the definitions. They suggest that a meteoroid becomes a “10 micrometer to 1 meter sized natural object traveling through interplanetary space”. A meteorite is a natural object that is larger than 10 micrometers whose parent was any rocky celestial body. The meteorite had to travel under it’s own natural means with enough velocity to escape the gravitational pull of its parent body. It then has to hit something that is larger than itself, natural or artificial, and survive the impact. What is most interesting is that the meteorite doesn’t have to hit a foreign object. If it hits the surface of it’s parent body, it’s still considered a meteorite*.

So, those are the differences between the terms. I think in the next post about meteorites, I’ll cover the classification system. And as a side note, this is my first time writing about anything of this nature. In the very unlikely chance that someone from academia (or anyone at all) reads this, please be kind with criticism. I’ll happily accept feedback if done in a professional manner.