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Monday, 31 January, 2000, 12:42 GMT
New Mars meteorite found

The rock was smashed off Mars and fell to Earth The rock was smashed off Mars and fell to Earth

By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

A rare Mars meteorite has been found after languishing in the backyard of a meteorite hunter in California for 20 years.

It was originally found in the Mojave Desert in California, and actually consists of two stones. The two rocks have been classified as Mars meteorites, technically basaltic shergottites, by analysis done at the University of California, Los Angeles. The two specimens weigh 452.6 g and 245.4 g

Fusion crust: The meteorite's exterior melted whilst falling to Earth Fusion crust: The meteorite's exterior melted whilst falling to Earth
The new meteorite's official name is the Los Angeles meteorite.

Two decades ago while on a rock-collecting trip somewhere in the Mojave Desert, meteorite hunter Bob Verish picked up a couple of rocks that had caught his eye. The rocks were basaltic with dark exteriors on top, and were interesting enough to his discerning eye to be included in his rock collection.

Rat nests

It would be 20 years before he would look closely at the rocks again. On 30 October 1999, while clearing out rat nests and rodent droppings from his rock collection, he came across the specimens again and cut off small samples of each rock for analysis.

A few weeks' later, UCLA scientists confirmed the two rocks were meteorites. They also noted that upon viewing a thin section of the rocks, they bore a remarkable similarity with the QUE 94201 meteorite, a Mars meteorite found in the Antarctic in 1994.

Last month, UCLA had confirmed the rocks were indeed Mars meteorites saying that the new Mars rocks were in many respects the most geochemically-evolved rocks yet discovered from the Red Planet.

The new find is important because the total number of known Mars meteorites is only 14. By contrast, there have been over 20,000 "ordinary" meteorites found on Earth. The Los Angeles meteorite is only the second Mars meteorite found in the United States. The latest find does suggest, however, that there maybe other Mars meteorites sitting in private and public rock collections whose true identity has yet to emerge.

Scientists will now analyse the Los Angeles meteorite in depth in order to determine its age and to see if it can shed new light on the controversy started in 1996 regarding the possible detection of life signs in a meteorite from Mars.

Bob Verish has nicknamed his two rocks Miguel and Gabriel.

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See also:
31 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Woman finds space fireball debris
25 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Robot hunts down meteorite
27 Aug 99 |  Sci/Tech
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27 Aug 99 |  Sci/Tech
Life on Mars - new claims

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