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Rocks from Space: Meteorites and Meteorite Hunters.

This book, written by a former director of the Grace Flandrau Planetarium and Science Center at the University of Arizona and the Fleischmann Planetarium at the University of Nevada at Reno, appears to have a tough time deciding whether to be an honest-to-goodness scientific text or a popular history of meteorite collecting. It oscillates between the two concepts in rather uneven fashion. The preface does contain a caveat that it was intended to be: ". . . a book with little or no scientific prerequisites attached." But a ternary composition diagram for the olivine group is not without some prerequisite - particularly when the diagram is wrong!

In spite of that, I found the book to be a worthwhile effort. Mr. Norton has done a great deal of drudge work in pulling together material from many sources and has turned that material into readable, and often entertaining, text. Mrs. Norton, likewise, has produced illustrations which enhance the usefulness of the book, while eight plates of color photographs add a little pizzazz overall.

The book is divided into four parts, followed by an epilog, five appendices, a glossary, a list of references, and two indices - general, and a list of meteorites.

Part I - Falls, Finds, and Craters, describes meteoroids, meteorites, meteor showers and meteorite craters around the world, historical events involving meteorites, how meteors are tracked, and so on. It occupies 124 pages, and is the longest portion of the book. Here is where the reader discovers interplanetary dust, what presumably happened in the great Siberian Tunguska event of 1908, what meteorites do when they land on earth, and a host of other interesting tidbits of information. It is a sort of natural history of meteorites.

Part II - What is a Meteorite?, concentrates on how to recognize a meteorite, and describes the various classifications (chondrite, achondrite, iron, stony-iron) in readily assimilable terms. It is the most scientific portion of the book, and certainly contributed a lot to my understanding of the subject. My only quibble, as I said, is with the composition diagram for the olivine group on page 178, in which the neat little bracket indicating a composition of 15-30% fayalite is at the wrong side of the triangle. In its present position it indicates 15-30% forsterite, not fayalite. Similarly, the percentage scale should either be doubled to run in both directions, or be dispensed with entirely. The error is one every student of phase equilibria has made at one time or another, but simply for that reason it should have been recognized and corrected earlier.

Part III - Meteorite Hunters, is essentially the history of how some of the great meteorites were discovered and recovered. It names and gives brief biographies of some of the individuals in the field of meteorite collecting, and describes the machinations, lawsuits and risks involved in finding, protecting and laying claim to ownership. Some of the stories found here are interesting as miniature examples of many human efforts - conception, development, fruition, and eventual lapse into senescence and decay. There are lessons to be learned here that have wider application than meteorite collection.

Part IV - Origins, discusses asteroids, comets, and theories of meteorite sources and development. It touches on the Oort Cloud, and ventures into the more recent theories of the influence of large meteorite impacts on the development of life on Earth. Smallest of the parts, at a mere 44 pages, it is, nonetheless, a good summary of current thinking.

The appendices, which touch upon etching meteorites, lists of commercial dealers and lists of laboratories, are likely to be of more interest to the hobbyist than the theoretician.

All in all, the book is a good compendium and a pleasant read. I enjoyed it, though a couple of things left nagging doubts in my mind. On page 87, for instance, the author describes the fall of the meteorite which struck a car in Peekskill, New York, in 1992. He says: "She reached down and touched the meteorite and noted it was still warm and smelled of sulfur." That's very interesting. It is interesting because meteorites, before their fall, have been orbiting in space for untold millions of years. They have cold-soaked temperatures not far from absolute zero (-273 [degrees] C). During their fall, a layer of the outer surface heats up and sloughs off, but there is normally not enough time for the heat to penetrate to the interior. People who find and pick up recently fallen meteorites are usually surprised to find how cold they are. The book doesn't mention that. I wonder why?

Quintin Wight
COPYRIGHT 1996 The Mineralogical, Inc.
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Wight, Quintin
Publication:The Mineralogical Record
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1996
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