When space rocks hit the big time

If you’re like me and involved in planetary sciences or meteorites, or just a space-buff in general, this week must have seen like mana from whatever god you may or not believe in. There were a couple big news items that made this week all the more fun to be involved in space science.

First up: Planetary Resources. In my opinion, this has been the biggest news of the week because of the players involved. When you hear about an asteroid mining company being funded by the tech titans at Google (among other wealthy people) and R&D being headed by engineers from NASA/JPL, you can be sure that Planetary Resources doesn’t plan on being the one-hit wonder of the nascent private space sector.

With that being said, I’m cautiously optimistic that this entire venture will succeed. Do I think they’ll find all this platinum that they’re looking for? Not entirely. When I look at meteorites (which come from asteroids) I don’t do a modal abundance of platinum; I’m looking at iron/nickel abundance. Since they’re not looking at the meteorites themselves, I can only assume that they’re using spectral analysis to determine how much platinum is available in a given asteroid. While this is a fairly useful tool, spectral analysis has a tendency to give false readings based on the degree of space weathering an object has suffered.

Now, with all that being said, I still think it’s a great idea and we’ll hopefully see many technological advances come out of this. And who knows- this sort of venture may lead to other jobĀ opportunitiesĀ for those such as myself that study meteorites, and by extension, the asteroids from which they come.

The second cool piece of news: brand new meteorites from the California fireball from last Sunday!

The new Sutter's Mill Meteorite. Aren't they pretty? (Image from NASA Lunar Science Institute)

I don’t know much about these meteorites yet. However, from the picture I can say that it’s a carbonaceous chondrite with some CAI’s (calcium aluminium inclusions). Those would be the white specks found scattered in the body of the meteorite. Carbonaceous chondrites tend to be on the rare side in our collections, so it’s always nice when we’re able to find more samples to augment our current crop of CC’s. Even more exciting is that these little beauties will possibly tell us more about the origins of solar system than what our collection of meteorites tell us now.