An Article In Meteorite Times Magazine


This feature is devoted each month to one of the personalities within the meteorite community. This month we are delighted to share an interview we had with Tom Phillips.  Tom is also devoting his time to the meteorite community by sharing his images with all of us in his new monthly Meteorite-Times Magazine Featured article call Meteorite Micro Visions.

Meteorite-Times (MT) What or who got you interested in meteorites and how old were you when you got your first meteorite?
 
Tom Phillips (TP) About six years ago I got a hold of what turned out to be a weathered basalt that was presented to me as a meteorite.  It was my investigation into this rock, to see if it was a meteorite, that opened up the world of meteorites to me.

(MT)
What was your first meteorite and do you still have it?
 
(TP) It was a Sikhote-Alin.  I gave it to my son who is now 14 years old and he keeps it on his computer desk.

(MT)
Do you have special areas of interest that you focus on in regards to meteorites (thin sections, photography, chemistry, age dating... etc)?
 
(TP) My interest is meteorites under the microscope.  I noticed many thin section cross polarized light micrographs in books but no high magnification reflected light micrographs of polished samples.

This is an example of a barred chondrule found in a thin section of JaH 055 viewed in cross polarized transmitted light.

 
This area really captured my attention as these methods show what the meteorite actually looks like close up.  While beautiful and necessary for classification, cross polarized light examination of thin sections hardly resemble anything familiar to anyone but a highly trained viewer.

This is also an example of a barred chondrule found in a polished slice of JaH 055 viewed in incident (Reflected) cross polarized light.  Ever wonder what it looks like between the lines of a barred chondrule?  Notice the difference in the image using the two very different methods!

(MT) Does your Family share in your interest in meteorites?

 
(TP) My family loves the irons and pallasites.  They don't share my enthusiasm for stones and can't understand why I will get so fired up over an apparent piece of gravel.

Way up close (600X) of Brahin Pallasite.  Polished slice in reflected light.

(MT) Do you have any special approaches to collecting? (Type collection, only stones, only irons, only by aesthetics, etc. or any and all that you like.)

 
(TP) It is my long term goal to have representative micrographs of all meteorite classifications.  As I need only about a 1/2gr. piece to polish and examine, my collection of "micros" is growing.

(MT)
Do you mind saying how many locations your collection represents?
 
(TP) If I count thin sections and micros. a little over 200.

(MT)
Is your collection displayed or kept in a dry box or both?

(TP) I have a large quantity of unclassified NWA because it provides me with an affordable quantity of meteorites giving me plenty of material to explore and perhaps make discoveries.
 
Meteorite collectors may remember the photo of Dean Bessy laying atop a pile of large NWA.  I bought that collection from Dean and many of those decorate the area around my microscopes.

(MT)
In what ways do you use your computer for meteorites?

(TP) Without the computer, I would of never built a collection or obtained any of my microscope equipment.

The zoom condenser allows focus of the light source as well as the objective.  Details of the fracture lines lying between the thickness of a 30 micron thin section were not so vivid without this condenser.
 
The aus Jena (East German Zeiss) Co. made a revolving aplanatic 'pancratic' (zoom) condenser where the NA is continually variable between 0.16 and 1.4 for their research microscopes.  Only a very few were made because of high costs.  Because of the computer (and eBay) I was able to obtain one from Beijing China.  It really gives my thin section Xpol shots some "POP".

(MT)
Do you ever hunt for meteorites?

(TP) All the time!  My family gets tired of me stopping the car to check out a rock.
 
I've spent a tremendous amount of days hiking with a magnet on a stick.  I like to walk to fast for a metal detector.  After digging up a few hundred bullets and nails you want to just walk and look for rocks.  I have set out to find a new strewn field but so far the only find I have made was in the known strewn field of Gold Basin Arizona.

(MT)
What is your favorite meteorite in your collection?

This micrograph shows the unusual structure found in a polished slice off the 12 Kilo NWA.

(TP) A large 12 Kilogram oriented Unclassified NWA.  I couldn't stand it and I cut off a small slice.  I wasn't disappointed.  It has some unusual microscopic structures that I haven't seen in other meteorites.  I have not yet had it classified.

(MT)
What is your favorite overall if it is not the one above and what makes these of special interest?

 
(TP) Flat out-SaU 001.  Sayh al Uhaymir, an ordinary chondrite L4/5 found in the country of Oman in 2000 with a estimated total known weight of over 400 Kilograms.  This meteorite not only has a  beautiful exterior and interior, it is the most interesting and surprising on the microscope.

This 1030 gr. SaU 001 individual nicely shows the copper metallic finish some of these meteorites exhibit.

 
Prime SaU 001's exhibit a beautiful copper metallic finish that almost looks applied.  I think this finish comes from the vaporization of interior metals but others suggest it is part of the weathering process.

Given it's large TKW and it's inauspicious classification, it is affordable to every one even in an impressive size.

(MT)
What meteorites are currently on your wish list?

(TP) After talking for hours with Martin Horejsi about historic witnessed falls, I realized that while I have some cool rocks, I don't have a single one with a pedigree.  He may have gotten me hooked on a new direction in meteorites.

(MT)
What methods have been most successful in building your collection? (Buying at shows, from dealers by mail, auctions on the web, trading... etc)

(TP) Almost entirely with contacts made on eBay and continued from there.  Make friends and they may offer it to you first!

(MT)
Do you also collect related materials like impact glasses, breccias, melts, tektites, shocked fossils, native iron rocks etc?

(TP) I have just a representative amount of tektites, minerals and fossils however, my driveway is lined with meteorwrongs I carried home to check into.

(MT)
Do you prepare any of your own specimens? (cut, polish, etch, etc.)

(TP) Yes, I have 4 saws with different size/thickness blades, 3 Lap machines and a Struers thin section production machine.  I polish the specimens in a 7 step process, finishing with a 1/4 micron diamond slurry.  This level of polish is necessary for microscope viewing.

(MT)
Have you had to take any special measures to protect them from the environment?

(TP) I live in a fairly dry area so humidity caused rust is not a bad problem.  I have found however, that a polished face can be nicely protected with a hardwood floor paste wax.  This treatment not only protects from rust, it does so with out effecting the microscopic viewing.  In fact, this treatment allows for easier photography of the specimen.  Note: this only works on polished slices.  It looks awful on a rough cut/grind.

(MT)
What type of special equipment have you acquired as a result of your 'e meteorite hobby?
 
(TP) My microscopes and lapidary machines.

These are my primary microscopes.  An aus Jena Neophot 21 and Fluoval.

This is an example of the specimen preparation equipment I use.

 
I have numerous microscopes but have fine tuned an aus Jena Neophot 21 for incident light viewing of polished specimens and an aus Jena Fluoval for thin section viewing.
 
(MT) What part of the meteorite hobby gives you the most satisfaction?
 
(TP) I like to give myself personal challenges.  After getting up to speed in reflected light microscopy I took on cross polarized light thin section examination and from there, thin section examination in combined transmitted and incident cross polarized light.

An example of combined incident and transmitted cross polarized light.  It is taken of a DAG 478 (L6) thin section.

 
I even worked on darkfield examination.  Darkfield techniques didn't prove useful in meteorite examination but at least I gave it a try.

An unfortunate housefly taken in darkfield (Phase contrast)
Please Note: The house fly was a house fly slide. Part of a child's "Insects under the microscope" set.

 

(MT) Who influenced you the most in meteorites?
 
(TP) This is my favorite question as there are so many great people attracted to this hobby.  In order of occurrence:
 
Bob Haag:  I carried his catalogue with me like it was a "Life Guide".  He was the first person to give me confidence in my micrographs.  It was Bob who connected me to Joel Schiff, then editor of Meteorite Magazine.
 
Joel Schiff:  Although I was a nobody in the meteorite world, Joel took a chance on me and helped me write my first meteorite article.  He even put one of my micrographs on the cover of Meteorite Magazine.
 
Rob Wesel:  Most of you know him as Nakhla Dog.  Rob was the first person to treat my micrographs as a valuable asset.  He sent me the coolest material I had ever seen (he comes up with some amazing material) and would let me keep the sample in an exchange for a CD of micrographs.
 
He even sent me a 5 kilogram Urelite to examine, but sadly, I had to return that one.  I still have a sense of pride when I go to his site and see my micrographs.
 
Martin Horejsi:  I am amazed at his knowledge of meteorites.  Not just the scientific side of structure, formation processes and chemical composition, but the stories behind the meteorites.  We have spent days cutting and polishing meteorites (I am always trying to talk him into taking an other one of his historic meteorites to the saw).
 
Martin has mentored me in the scientific process.  He has the most analytical approach to meteorites and I hope to learn a lot more from him.  My approach has always been trial and error (is it hard? "I don't know. Hit it with a big hammer.")  While Martin is amused at this, he always takes his time and determines the right way.  Cutting and grinding rocks for hours is hard work and you learn a lot about someone doing it with them.
 
He won't boast, but I swear he can correctly guess a meteorites classification just by giving him a magnet and a jeweler's loop.
 
(MT) Do you have any favorite micrographs?
 
(TP) Yes there are two.  The first was used on the cover of Kevin Kichinka's book The Art of Collecting Meteorites.  This micrograph of an SaU 001 chondrule? appears to have intertwined tendrils rather than typical barred chondrules.

This micrograph of an unusual chondrule? seems to look almost organic.  Found in a polished slice of SaU 001.

 
The other is an unusual crystal structure I found in a slice of JaH 055.  An ordinary chondrite, this structure is any thing but ordinary.  

Unusual structure found in a slice of JaH 055.