Understanding the nature of meteorites: the experimental work of Gabriel-Auguste Daubrée
Richard J. Howarth, 2006. "Understanding the nature of meteorites: the experimental work of Gabriel-Auguste Daubrée", The History of Meteoritics and Key Meteorite Collections: Fireballs, Falls and Finds, G.J.H. McCall, A.J. Bowden, R.J. Howarth
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The French geologist, mineralogist and experimental petrologist, Gabriel-Auguste Daubrée (1814–1896) was a leading scientist of his generation, possibly best known today for his application of the experimental method to structural geology. During his tenure of the Chair of Geology at the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, to which he was appointed in 1861, he played a leading role in expanding its meteorite collection, developing a classification system for meteorites (1867), and using both petrological (1863–1868) and mechanical (1876–1879) experiments to gain a greater understanding of their chemical composition and how their physical attributes had arisen. This led him to believe in the ‘cosmic’ importance of peridotites and their hydrated equivalent, ‘serpentine’ (serpentinite), that the Earth might be unusual in having an oxygen-rich atmosphere and oceans, and that planetary bodies probably had a shell-like structure, increasing in density towards a nickeliferous iron core. (His ideas led to Eduard Seuss's SiAl–SiMa–NiFe model of the Earth.) Following the discovery, by the explorer Nils Nordenskiöld in 1870, of ‘native’ irons apparently associated with basalts at Disko Island, West Greenland, Daubrée took part in the subsequent investigation and the vigorous debate concerning their terrestrial or meteoritic origin.
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This Special Publication has 24 papers with an international authorship, and is prefaced by an introductory overview which presents highlights in the field. The first section covers the acceptance by science of the reality of the falls of rock and metal from the sky, an account that takes the reader from BCE (before common era) to the nineteenth century. The second section details some of the world's most important collections in museums - their origins and development. The Smithsonian chapter also covers the astonishingly numerous finds in the cold desert of Antarctica by American search parties. There are also contributions covering the finds by Japanese parties in the Yamato mountains and the equally remarkable discoveries in the hot deserts of Australia, North Africa, Oman and the USA. The other seven chapters take the reader through the revolution in scientific research on meteoritics in the later part of the twentieth century, including terrestrial impact cratering and extraordinary showers of glass from the sky; tektites, now known to be Earth-impact-sourced. Finally, the short epilogue looks to the future.
The History of Meteoritics and Key Meteorite Collections should appeal to historians of science, meteoriticists, geologists, astronomers, curators and the general reader with an interest in science.