Stephen G. Brush, 2006. "Meteorites and the origin of the solar system", The History of Meteoritics and Key Meteorite Collections: Fireballs, Falls and Finds, G.J.H. McCall, A.J. Bowden, R.J. Howarth
Download citation file:
During the past two centuries, theories of the origin of the solar system have been strongly influenced by observations and theories about meteorites. I review this history up to about 1985.
During the 19th century the hypothesis that planets formed by accretion of small solid particles (‘the meteoritic hypothesis’) competed with the alternative ‘nebular hypothesis’ of Laplace, based on condensation from a hot gas. At the beginning of the 20th century Chamberlin and Moulton revived the meteoritic hypothesis as the ‘planetesimal hypothesis’ and joined it to the assumption that the solar system evolved from the encounter of the Sun with a passing star. Later, the encounter hypothesis was rejected and the planetesimal hypothesis was incorporated into new versions of the nebular hypothesis. In the 1950s, meteorites provided essential data for the establishment by Patterson and others of the presently accepted 4500 Ma age of the Earth and the solar system. Analysis of the Allende meteorite, which fell in 1969, inspired the ‘supernova trigger’ theory of the origin of the solar system, and furnished useful constraints on theories of planetary formation developed by Urey, Ringwood, Anders and others. Many of these theories assumed condensation from a homogeneous hot gas, an assumption that was challenged by astrophysical calculations.
The meteoritic-planetesimal theory of planet formation was developed in Russia by Schmidt and later by Safronov. Wetherill, in the United States, established it as the preferred theory for formation of terrestrial planets.
Figures & Tables
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.