An Article In Meteorite-Times Magazine
by Martin Horejsi of  Martin Horejsi's Meteorite and Tektite Books

In Common with Urey?

At Least One Old Meteorite.

The Nobel Laureate Harold Clayton Urey and I have a few things in common. First, neither one of us has a meteorite class named after us. Second, we both have degrees from the University of Montana, Missoula. Third, we are both recipients of the NASA Group Achievement Award. Fourth, we had a common friend, Gordon G. Goles. And now we have a fifth thing in common, ownership of a fragment of the Molina, Spain meteorite.

The H5 brecciated chondrite named Molina, Spain fell to earth on Christmas Eve in 1858. One hundred years later, Harold Urey turned 65 and moved to California to where he received this specimen while at UCSD. This fragment contains a painted specimen number from the Paris Museum of Natural History.

Years ago when I was an undergraduate at the University of Montana, one of my chemistry courses was held in the Harold C. Urey Lecture Hall. I knew that Harold Urey was an alumnus of the U of M, but at that time, I knew little else about him.

In fact, Urey's 1934 Nobel Prize was for the discovery of deuterium, no small achievement! Further, Urey was just the third American to ever receive a Nobel Prize in chemistry. But in hindsight, I see that there is somewhat of a contradiction in that the Urey Lecture Hall is underground and likely also a bomb shelter. Urey's discoveries were used to further the atomic bomb, something Urey described as "totally evil" and joined Albert Einstein in opposition to the bomb.

Later in his life, after falling in love with the moon and meteorites, Urey wrote a book titled The Planets which is often cited as the beginning of the application of modern science to the study of the solar system. It was also the beginning of the general use of the word cosmochemistry. Urey was also part of movement to reclassify meteorites according to chemical criteria rather than physical looks.

The fragment of Molina was wrapped in folded paper as if it were a diamond. The paper was in labled and placed in a box.


The specimen was mailed in a larger package addressed to Prof. Dr. Urey at the University of California in San Diego.


A close up picture of the addressing of the package including the return address of the Museum of Natural History in Paris, France.


Shortly after the publication of The Planets, one of Urey's graduate students at the University of Chicago named Stanley Miller proposed testing one of Urey's hypotheses; that organics (the precursors of life) formed out of the methane and ammonia-rich atmosphere of the earth. In the Miller-Urey Experiment, Miller zapped a flask full of ammonia, methane and water with electricity (simulating lightening) producing an organic muck rich with amino acids and other biotic molecules. In a story about a presentation that Urey made regarding the experiment, it is noted that Enrico Fermi asked Urey,

"I understand that you and Miller have demonstrated that this is one path by which life might have originated. Harold, do you think it was the way?"

Urey replied,

"Let me put it this way, Enrico. If God didn't do it this way, he overlooked a good bet!"

Urey's book The Planets was a turning point in our understanding of the solar system. In essence, this 1952 publication started the first moden application of science tools towards the understanding of our solar system.


Urey turned 65 yeas old in 1958 and moved to UCSD at La Jolla, California. It was there that in 1964 the piece of Molina was sent to Urey by the Museum of Natural History in Paris. That piece of Molina remained wrapped in a box, along with the mailing lable, in a meteorite collection that moved from university to university. Forty years later, and 146 years after it fell, the fragment of Molina moved into my collection along with the box and mailing label.

While at La Jolla, Urey had a graduate student named Gordon G. Goles who also had a passion for meteorites. Goles died of cancer in November of 2003, but on and off over the past decade, I had the pleasure to spend hours talking with Gordon about all things meteorite, and about his time with Harold Urey.

As Goles was blossoming in graduate school into the amazing scientist he would later be, he challenged his mentor's views on the origin of meteorites. In the end, the challenge by Goles et al. to the status quo won out, and the idea of small bodies of the solar system as the source of most meteorites trumped Urey's large-body model.

In the end, there is no doubt that our view of the solar system and its meteorites was shaped by Urey's work. And although I never met Harold C. Urey, our paths have crossed many times, just not at the same time, unfortunately.

But it is not too late to "re"name Ureilites after Harold Urey. While the type-specimen for Ureilites is the Novo Urei, Russia achondrite that fell in 1886, it would be a most fitting tribute to name Ureilites after Urey since Urey was a pivotal scientist in the field of meteoritics and held a special fondness for diamond-bearing meteorites including ureilites.

This 37g end section of the Goalpara, India ureilite is in the author's collection. Ureilites, in this author's opinion anyway, should be named after Harold C. Urey rather than the Novo Urei type-specimen. Notice the wonderful flow lines on this ureilite.


Cutting and polishing a face of Goalpara is no easy task given the extreme hardness of ureilites. Urey had a particular fondness for diamond-bearing meteorites including ureilites. It is still not too late to rename ureilites after Harold Clayton Urey, and no doubt that would be an easier task that preparing a ureilite for display.


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