Many will debate whether or not other-worldly beings have ever visited Earth, but scientists will agree that rocks from other planets have been here for many years. Recently one such rock was donated to TCU’s Monnig Meteorite Gallery by Radiant Point, Ltd. president, Philip Mani. Believed to be from Mars, this contribution comes on the heels of another noteworthy meteorite donated by Mani earlier this year named Erg Chech 002.
Associate professor and curator of the Monnig, Rhiannon Mayne, says these contributions are important for different reasons. “Erg Chech 002 is possibly the oldest magmatic rock we have ever found in our solar system. Magmatic means that it formed from the melting of other materials. In this case, those materials would have been the very earliest solids in the solar system.”
Meteorites are the best window into the processes and conditions that were occurring at this time 4.56 billion years ago, because this is not a period that is preserved on Earth. Mayne says, “The melting and subsequent crystallization of these magmatic materials happened in a process we call differentiation, where primitive bodies separate into a layered structure with a core, mantle, and crust. This is a structure that we see in all of the terrestrial planets, and Erg Chech 002 provides us with a way to study planetary formation.”
Because the other donation is believed to be from Mars, it has inherent scientific value. The Martian sample has not been studied before, and TCU will be performing all the work in order to have this meteorite officially classified. Mani says when he acquired the Martian meteorite, he first thought of Mayne. “I knew I wanted Rhiannon’s help in classifying it, and I wanted to allow her graduate students to apply new techniques and equipment in doing so.”
Mayne says, “This is a great opportunity for my student, Emily Gackstatter, who will be completing this work. We approached studying this sample a little differently in that we preserved a complete record of the full stone (part of which was donated) first. We were able to CT scan the interior and create a 3D map of its surface.”
Gackstatter is a graduate geology student. This donation is particularly exciting to her because she will have the opportunity to pioneer the research from the very start. “My study has a few different objectives, but my main goals are classification and developing a petrogenesis model. I am hoping to answer these questions: What are the potential formation mechanisms, and how does this sample fit/expand Martian igneous processes,” Gackstatter says.
The Monnig Meteorite collection is one of the largest university-based meteorite collections in the world. Currently, the Monnig contains nearly 3,000 samples from more than 2,300 different meteorites, and the collection is constantly growing. While the Monnig is the public face of the collection, 95 percent of the samples are not on display and are used for education and scientific research. Mayne says, “The Monnig Meteorite Gallery has served as one of TCU’s largest outreach efforts since its opening in 2003. Before the pandemic hit, we were seeing more than 10,000 people a year both at the gallery and at schools and events throughout the metroplex. To put that into perspective, that is about the same as the number of undergraduates at TCU.”
Learn more about The Monnig Meteorite Gallery.