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31 May 2009

Response to Searching for Meteorites in the Deserts of Oman 31MAY09

Response to "Searching for Meteorites in the Deserts of Oman "
by Martin Altmann, Germany:
I just want to add some information, partially missing in the article, and
maybe not so well known.

To avoid any misunderstanding I first have to say,
that the Suisse searching campaign are exemplary and a success.

"Amateur collectors of meteorites have been accused of inappropriately
handling them and inadequately documenting their finds, making life
difficult for the scientists who want to study the rocks."

There is missing a "wrongly" and the term "amateur" is somewhat improper.

Because these searchers documented each find with all data, took the
geographical coordinates, made in-situ photos, were sometimes describing the
properties of the surrounding soils and brought them to the normal
classification process, so that they were published by the Meteoritical
Furthermore the finds were available to everyone, of course to scientists
too and that more readily than e.g. the Antarctic finds with their
distribution system.

Several of these searchers were trained geologists and some of them even
were employed at one of the leading institutes of meteorites.
Additionally many of them were responsible for the earlier desert finds in
Libya, before they opened up with their activities the desert of Oman for

Another hint, that these searchers should rather be called "professionals"
might be their find record.
Let's take a look on the lunaites and Martians, because they are highlighted
in the article.

These searchers found all in all

78 stones of lunaites, representing 19 different falls, with a combined
weight of 10,077 grams.

The Suisse campaigns from 2001 on found
1 stone, representing 1 lunaite, weighing 206g.

The "amateurs" found 3 different Martian meteorites, totaling 12,282grams
Suisse teams: 1 stone, 223grams - an additional find of a Martian, where of
the amateur searcher had found the 2 years before more than 10kgs.

Nowadays, since a few years, searching and export permits are issued by the
Omani authorities only for the Suisse-Oman-team and for nobody else anymore.

A situation, where one could come to the opinion, which is far from being
ideal, at least seeing the requirements of planetology and science.
A solution could be, to involve the so successful searchers from former
times into the official campaigns.

"in fact it was the appearance (and sale) of those rocks"

The commercial argument is proven to be weak.
E.g. seen the costs for the expedition, salaries & insurances and the
classification and lab equipment, there wouldn't have any difference, if the
authorities of Oman would have acquired ready classified chondrites up to
5-10kgs from these private searchers, if I remember their prices correcly.
(didn't made the stats, but I would be surprised, if less than 80%++ of all
finds in Oman would be ordinary chondrites).
And in general, as explained here several times - the acquiring costs of
annual World-output of new meteorites by the private/commercial side
do not exceed the costs of 3-4 normal midsized research projects in other
displines of 1st-World-universities.

"the Oman project is the only long-term search program currently being
conducted in a hot desert."

Unfortunately that is true.

Which leads two to questions:

How legitimate or how meaningful are then the restrictive legislation, which
was enforced (and which is about to be enforced) in other countries with
deserts similar productive like the Omani desert, prohibiting private
if the research policy in these countries isn't able to conduct continously
official meteorite expeditions?

The complete break-down of the number of finds in Libya and Australia is
documented in the Meteoritical Bulletin Database published by the
Meteoritical Society:

The same type of legislation is planned for the NWA-sector,
Possibly leading to similar results.

And secondly,
one could feel a wrong weighting of meteorite science, if not more of such
expeditions are carried out.
Here the article is very good, in outlining, that the research on meteorites
is the essential research about the solar system, our origins and in
gathering basic information for planetology.
Seen the expenses for Earth-bound observatories and space-flight missions,
handling similar questions,
it is hardly understandable that so few means are used for the search for
meteorites and the scientific work on them,
as there exist no research on our solar system, which is so efficient like
the research on meteorites.
To invest in a more sufficient way in labs and expeditions for meteorites,
especially for desert meteorites, where the cost compared to the Antarctic
campaigns are lower with a factor of 50-100 (and where the find rates are
would still be, compared to the budgets of the neighbouring disciplines,
nothing else than peanuts.

Insofar, such articles are very important, to raise more attention.

" samples weighing four tons."

Wasn't there a publication last year -- speaking
of six tons?

All the Best!


Anonymous said...

what is the best place to ask for a meteorite to be verified

Anonymous said...

Meteorite testing labs:

Anonymous said...

thanks so much - from Anon no 1