Desert meteorites: a history
During the last 35 years, the number of meteorites available for study has increased by an order of magnitude (from around 2000 to nearly 30 000). The largest contribution has come from meteorites recovered from the Antarctic ice (more than 20 000); however, since the late 1980s a significant number (more than 8000–9000) have come from so called ‘hot’ deserts. The most notable arid areas of the world for meteorite recoveries are the wider Sahara (Algeria, Libya, Niger and other unspecified localities in NW Africa), Roosevelt County in New Mexico, USA, the Nullarbor Region of Australia, and, more recently, the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula in Saudi Arabia and Oman. Other areas in which meteorites have been found in numbers include the Namibian Desert in SW Africa and the Atacama Desert in Chile. This wealth of material has greatly extended our knowledge of early solar system materials by providing occasional samples of meteorites hitherto unknown to science, and allowing the construction of new groups of related meteorites. In addition, these accumulated collections have also allowed estimates to be made of the flux of meteorites to Earth with time, studies of their mass/type distribution on Earth and palaeoclimatic studies of the areas from which meteorites have been recovered. This paper documents the history of meteorite recovery from the ‘hot’ deserts of the world, and notes the effects that this abundance of material has had on the science of meteoritics.
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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.