Martian Atmosphere - Zagami Meteorite
Martian Atmosphere - Zagami Meteorite
"Mars is there, waiting to be reached."
~Buzz Aldrin, American Astronaut, 2001.
The Zagami meteorite is an incredibly rare Martian meteorite which fell to Earth in 1962 in rural Nigeria. The meteorite was created millions of years ago when an impact on Mars' surface shot debris out of the atmosphere and into orbit. The strength of this impact also caused the rapid melting and cooling of rock, which sealed gasses inside the new meteorite. This means that not only is Zagami from Mars, but contains pieces of the red planet's atmosphere within it as well.
This specimen is a piece of the Zagami meteorite. Specimens are hand cut and measure roughly 4mm on each side and are around 0.08 grams, though there is some variance. The specimen is housed in an acrylic jar that is encased within a glass-topped riker display box. The box measures 4 1/2" x 3 1/2". A small information card is also included, which serves as the certificate of authenticity.
Please Note: The Zagami meteorite is incredibly precious material. Due to its unique extraterrestrial origin, it is quite rare and there is very little in public hands.
A Martian Meteorite
To many, the planet Mars represents the next step in human exploration. However the first travelers between planets are not humans at all, but meteorites.
When a meteorite strikes Mars, debris flies away from heavy impacts, breaking free of the low gravity and floating through space. The thin Martian atmosphere contains a mixture of elements found nowhere else in the solar system, except within tiny glass, “shock-melt” pockets embedded inside a few, special Martian meteorites. This specimen is one of those rare meteorites.
Known as Zagami, this meteorite fell in rural Nigeria in 1962. Studies in the early 1990’s provided the first clues to the ratio of Argon isotopes in the Martian atmosphere. NASA’s Martian Rover Curiosity confirmed the ratio in 2013 through direct observation on Mars’ surface.
This particular specimen comes directly from Robert Haag, friend of Mini Museum and holder of the main mass. The same specimen features in the Second Edition of the Mini Museum.
Sealed Atmospheric Gas
Over millions of years, this meteorite travelled the solar system until it landed here on Earth, bringing with it air from another planet. This means that within the meteorite are pockets of Martian atmosphere, which were sealed inside during its creation.
Each specimen comes displayed in a cushioned gem jar. The jar is enclosed inside a classic, glass-topped riker display case that measures 4"x3"x1". A small information and authenticity card about the meteorite is also enclosed.
(📸 No, we didn’t hitch a ride to Mars. The background of this composite is NASA image PIA07997, taken by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit on May 19th, 2005. To see the original image and learn more details visit NASA's photo page here. As for us, we’re just going to enjoy the view. 😎)
The Red Planet
MORE ABOUT ZAGAMI AND MARS' ATMOSPHERE
📸 The surface of Mars as seen from the Viking I mission
📸 The distance from Earth to Mars visuallized (Not to scale)
The Journey of a Meteorite
Though it is our closest planetary neighbor, the trip to Mars is still a major undertaking. To go from Earth to Mars would take 127 million miles of travel in the cold of outer space. Despite the major distance though, geologic visitors have made their way to Earth in the form of meteorites.
The surface of Mars is subject to frequent and powerful meteorite impacts. With a smaller atmosphere than Earth, meteorites rain down with much less air resistance and strike the planet faster and more complete. These heavy impacts eject huge amounts of sediment and debris, some of which can fly out of Mars’ low gravity and enter an escape orbit. When this happens, the impact debris floats through space for millions of years with some pieces eventually being caught in Earth’s gravity and becoming meteorites of their own.
📸 Mars' surface as photographed by the NASA Curiosity Rover (Credit: NASA/JPL, 2015)
These meteorites are classified as a part of the SNC (shergottite, nakhlite, and chassignite) group and had long been thought to have come from a planetoid. When the Viking lander sent back geologic data from the planet, this theory was confirmed.
The largest discovered member of the SNC group is known as the Zagami meteorite. In 1962, the meteorite landed in Zagami, Nigera, smashing a deep hole only 10 feet away from a local farmer. When scientists began to study it though, they discovered something incredible. Within the meteorite were pockets of atmospheric gasses; trapped air from Mars.
When the impactor that sent the Zagami meteorite off the surface of Mars hit, it created a powerful shockwave of kinetic energy. This shock superheated the rock, instantly melting and crystalizing minerals within it. The sudden change caused samples of atmosphere from the surface of Mars to be frozen in the new geologic matrix and they travelled with the meteorite on its route to Earth.
Unlocking Martian Secrets
The data that has been found in the Zagami meteorite has allowed scientists to study the chemical make up of the Martian atmosphere. Research has been done with the material to try finding evidence of ancient water and carbon cycles at work on the planet. For any manned missions to Mars this atmospheric data is incredibly useful, as understanding the air of a planet is the first step towards any plan to making it habitable.
This specimen is a fragment of the Zagami Martian meteorite that landed on Earth in 1962. Its recent appearance on our planet has made it an invaluable resource in studies of Mars as it has been relatively uncontaminated by terrestrial influences and remains a pure source of information about the makeup of the red planet.
FRONT OF THE SPECIMEN CARD
BACK OF THE SPECIMEN CARD
Marti, K., et al. “Signatures of the Martian Atmosphere in Glass of the Zagami Meteorite.” Science, vol. 267, no. 5206, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1995, pp. 1981–84.
Mahaffy, Paul R., et al. “Abundance and Isotopic Composition of Gases in the Martian Atmosphere from the Curiosity Rover.” Science, vol. 341, no. 6143, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2013, pp. 263–66.
Grady, Monica M., and Ian Wright. “The Carbon Cycle on Early Earth: And on Mars?” Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, vol. 361, no. 1474, The Royal Society, 2006, pp. 1703–13.