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Students learn meteor 'rights' and meteor 'wrongs'

By Evan Miller

Posted: 2/28/07

Before the launch of Sputnik in 1957, scientists had to rely on
"the poor man's space probe" to gather information about conditions in outer space.

Humans have observed these "space probes," better known as meteorites, since ancient times.
Indiana is no exception. Meteorites have been recovered everywhere from LaPorte to Harrison County.

"Until just a few years ago, we had no samples of anything outside the earth other than meteorites," said Nelson R. Shaffer Ph.D.

Shaffer, of the Indiana Geological Survey, came to ISU Monday to explain these meteorites and their effects on the planet.

The event, which was sponsored by the Department of Geology, Geography, and Anthropology, examined meteorites in Indiana. People continued to gather around the door to get a closer look at his display cases and slides of meteorites.

He presented pictures of several different meteorite types, as well as a map of those recovered in Indiana. Shaffer explained what to look for to identify a meteorite.

"Look for a thin dark coating. It can be glassy or dull," he said. "They're usually heavy because they're made of metal."

Shaffer is the Section Head of Coal and Industrial Minerals with the Indiana Geological Survey and is an expert in mineralogy and meteorites.

He stated that of the 1,000 or so documented meteorite falls, more than 90 percent are stones while 5-6 percent are iron.

"We get a lot of meteor-wrongs as well," he joked.
Many people bring in strange rocks that they think may be meteorites in hopes of striking it rich. Meteorite burglary is a lucrative crime with some meteorites selling for millions of dollars, Shaffer said.

Shaffer also explained several incidents of meteorites hitting cars, houses and even people. He brought handouts describing all 11 of the meteorite falls or finds in Indiana.

A person might witness a meteorite fall, but meteorite finds are found by accident much later. Shaffer even displayed a tiny piece of Mars in his collection of space debris.

"I just like meteorites" he said, with a smile.

Shaffer stayed long after the presentation was over to answer questions from curious students and to display his collection.

For more informaion on meteorite activity, visit the Indiana Geological Survey Website at http://igs.indiana.edu/.
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