LA Story

Robert S. Verish1



(Part 1 described how the Los Angeles Meteorite came to be recovered, and how a sample of it was taken and brought to UCLA.  Part 2 begins with its initial recognition at UCLA.)


It bears repeating.  Prior to the identification of the Los Angeles Meteorite as being a shergottite, UCLA had not seen the stones.  The sample that I submitted for analysis went straight to thin-section processing.  This sample was a 9 gram sliver that I personally cut from what was later called "stone #2" (LA 002)…


When Alan Rubin looked into the eye-piece of his microscope, he had no preconception of what he was about to see.  All he knew was that he was about to examine a thin-section taken from a small sample that I had brought to him several weeks earlier.   At that time I expressed my [baseless] opinion that this sample was from a terrestrial rock that had been blasted off the surface of the Earth only to eventually reenter the atmosphere and fall back to the ground as a "meteorite".  It appears that Alan translated my "opinion" into, "the rock is probably terrestrial".  The small sample that I submitted was of poor quality, so Alan decided to postpone a determination until the thin-section was prepared.  I was notified that the thin-section was ready, and that its examination would wait until I was present.  An appointment was arranged with Alan.

 I watched Alan place the thin section onto the stage of the microscope. Now he was looking into the eyepiece. I watch closely and listen intently.  Soon he would be describing to me what he sees.  He will either tell me why it isn't a meteorite, or…

It may have been a span of only 10 seconds, but it felt much, much longer.   Still, not a word from Alan.  He looks away and double-checks the thin-section that he had placed on the stage, as if to assure himself that he had the correct specimen. Another 10 seconds goes by and still there is silence. Finally, and without lifting his head from the eyepiece, Alan calls out, as if there was someone else in the lab, "Paul, come here!  I need you to look at this!", but it was just the two of us there.  (In retrospect, I am reminded of a quote attributed to Graham Bell's first words spoken over a telephone, "Watson, come here!  I need you!")  Regardless, from several doors down the hallway comes the muffled reply, "I'll be right there."

Soon, "Paul" joined us in the lab.    Alan relinquishes his chair, and at the same time introduces me to Paul Warren.  Formalities are quickly concluded and now Paul is looking into the eye-piece of the microscope, and again, I watch closely and listen intently.  Alan and Paul exchange petrologic terms, and I catch the word “maskelynite”.  Now, I have to admit, at that time I didn't know much about “maskelynite”, but I did remember hearing that it was a mineral found in shocked rocks from the Moon and in Mars meteorites.  (During the next few weeks I would become very familiar with the term.)  Finally, Paul Warren spoke, and I’ll never forget his words, “Well, it’s definitely maskelynite”.

It was at that precise moment that I realized this was no ordinary meteorite.  I found it hard to contain myself, while Alan and Paul continued their analysis in a subdued, very professional manner.  They paid no attention to me as I sat in the corner waving my fist in the air as if I were some kind of Olympic athlete having just won a gold medal.  They continued to examine the thin-section trying to find petrologic evidence for either a Martian or Moon origin.

In retrospect I've concluded that I spent the remainder of the afternoon in a kind of "state of shock". It still seems so bizarre the series of events that soon transpired.  It was remarkable how calm and reserved were Alan and Paul as they shook my hand and congratulated me on my find, as if they do this for people every day of the week.  They continued to remain calm and reserved, while I explained how I had no idea where I found the meteorite.  At some point I asked the bizarre question, "Would you like to see the rock from which I took the sample?"  They remained calm and reserved even in spite of my question and even after I unwrapped LA 002.  The only response being a request that I cut for them another 20 grams for research purposes.  Still in a state of shock, I remember muttering, "You mean to say, I still get to take this [rock] home with me?"  There was laughter.  Then an emphatic assurance that I do get to keep my find, but that it is standard procedure for a certain percentage, or 20 grams, to be retained for future research purposes. 

Although I may have been in a state of shock, this still didn't jive with what I knew about the Old Woman Meteorite story.  Nevertheless, with the meeting ending, I found that I was actually getting to take my rock back home with me.  It felt strange.  In the next second an even more bizarre event.  I hear myself saying, "Wait. There's more of the meteorite."  Everyone sits back down. Calmness and reservation resume being challenged.  They ask in unison, "How much more?"  Still stunned by my own confession, I blurt out "They're over a pound!"  Rubin, now piqued, looks at Warren and says, "There's over a pound more!"  Rubin looks back at me and asks, "Bob, why now? Did you think that it would be taken from you?"  I just shrugged my shoulders and said nothing more.  Several days later I return, so that UCLA could get their first look at LA 001.

From this point on, the LA Story is well documented and doesn't bear repeating here. But during the same period of time that the Los Angeles meteorite was being identified as having come from the planet Mars, another event was occurring on that planet.  It was at this same time that the company I work for suffered the loss of the Mars Polar Lander, signaling a major delay in NASA's ultimate objective of returning a Mars sample by the end of the decade.  I was struck by the irony of this coincidence.

It seemed obvious to me that in light of this major delay, it was now more important than ever to mount a concerted effort to search and recover more Mars meteorites.  To this end I've proposed the formation of a joint academic/private/public-funded organization which would sponsor teams of meteorite recovery experts, a Meteorite Recovery Foundation, if you will.  If you think the idea of purposefully looking for Lunar and Mars meteorites is preposterous, keep in mind that in the time since I first proposed this idea until now, two more Mars and Lunar meteorites have been "purposefully" recovered in the Dhofar Desert of Oman.

Being more interested in recovering meteorites in the field than in administering a fledgling organization, I took to the task of justifying the viability of my premise, "What can be found accidently, can surely be found purposefully, if well organized".  To this end I formed a team of proven meteorite hunters.  A test area was picked in which we had all thoroughly hunted indivdually, but in which only one of us had recovered a single, small ordinary chondritic stone.  Returning to the same area, but now working together as an organized team, we were able to recover an additional 8 ordinary chondritic stones, representing 5 separate falls!  (Characterization by A. Rubin, UCLA, and nomenclature pending approval.)  What makes these results even more promising is that they confirm my earlier published supposition regarding Lucerne Valley Meteorites, that on any similar sized area and with a surface similar to Lucerne Dry Lake, there should be found a similar ratio of separate meteorites to total number of specimens [1].

Although all the meteorites found to date at Lucerne Dry Lake, and at all our other study areas, are ordinary chondrites, these groups constitute only ~80% of falls and it is very likely  that less-common meteorite types will eventually turn up.  The organizing of a Meteorite Recovery Foundation is proceeding very slowly, but the rate of recovery by our Meteorite Recovery Field Survey team is continuing in our other study areas in the Mojave Desert.

Another function of this M-R team is related to "public outreach".  Team members have conducted demos, displays, and lectures at various public functions, such as, at schools, rockhound and mineral collecting club meetings, local museums, and county fairs.  Although this has resulted in an increase in the number of rocks that the general public is sending to UCLA for identification, many more "meteorwrongs" have been "short-stopped" by our team members.  The general consensus is that, even though there are more "meteorwrongs" appearing, there are more meteorites being recovered.

 My proposed method of meteorite recovery is far from novel.  There is long history of attempts at various styles of recovery. From 1971 to 1985, the Meteorite Observation and Recovery Project (MORP) operated  twelve camera stations to track fireballs and locate potential meteorite falls. Their record was one recovered meteorite (Innisfree) out of 43 recorded falls.  Recently, Canada has resumed its meteorite recovery efforts by forming the Prairie Meteorite Search, which operates by using the tried and true methods of Harvey Nininger. The Prairie Meteorite Search is a project of the Meteorites and Impacts Advisory Committee to the                         Canadian Space Agency. This is Canada’s volunteer group charged with the investigation of fireballs and                         the recovery of meteorites. The Prairie Meteorite Search has the support of these organizations and programs:

CSEG - Canadian Society for Exploration Geophysicists

NSERC - National Science and Engineering Research Council

University of Calgary - Special Projects Fund

The PM-Search has already made 2 finds and is predicting 4 more!

Even more recently, here in the U.S., the University of Arizona has initiated a "Meteorite Recovery Program". But clearly, the Canadian approach to m-recovery, where there is a broad-based, well-organized and funded effort with connections to a Space Agency, is a more preferred path to follow than taking advantage of disparate, groups of individuals competing for the same hunting grounds.

And so, the LA Story is a continuing story.  It's a story of continual meteorite recovery.

The story continues at:

[1]  Verish R. S. et. al. (2000) LPI Contribution No. 997