An Article In Meteorite Times Magazine
by Jim Tobin

JPL Open House

My wife and I were able to go to the JPL Open House this year. She had never been and it had been years since I had gone. It often conflicts with the Costa Mesa Gem and Mineral Show. But, not this year. I guess my first reaction to the open house this time was the number of visitors. It was packed. Which I found encouraging. I have been harboring the idea that Americans were getting less interested in Space and Space Exploration in recent years. However, the tremendous crowd may mean there are more individuals excited about JPL and NASAís activities then I thought.

I actually only found two meteorites there in our walking around. The first was a nice piece of EETA79001. The picture below is the shot I got of the 200-gram display chunk that was in the Mars Meteorites booth. The docent did not know much about EETA79001 but he knew the basic facts of how scientists know Mars meteorites are from Mars. And to everyone else hearing the talk I am sure it was very enthralling. I noticed right off the black veins running through it. I trust that they are shock veins. Since the process needed to launch a chunk of rock off Mars would deliver enough hammer force to certainly shock the stone. The meteorite has a nice fresh fusion crust and the Antarctic has kept the inside fresh too. As you can see in the photo there are some white clasts in the otherwise gray-green stone. It is a shergottite that weighed in at 7942.0 grams. A very cool stone.

The only other meteorite that I stumble on was in the Educators Outreach Program room. My wife wanted to visit there since she had a friend that was going to be working as a docent. As it turned out there was also a professor there from the physics department where my wife works. He was staffing a table. The table had a nice Gibeon with great sculptured shape. It was being subjected to tremendous magnetic forces as they stacked long piles of rare earth magnets to it. This was a real hit with all the students passing through. On occasion the long columns of magnets would reach two to three feet in length.

There are always the models and the demonstrations of the rovers. You can volunteer to be run over by a rover at one booth. They have displays with materials for all the upcoming programs as well as some that are already on their way into space. There was a very simple display of the Phoenix mission. But, I had the opportunity to tour the Command Center in Tucson 15 months ago. They did have some nice 3D photos at this open house but, not as many or as nice as the Tucson facility had. The spaced apart dual camera imaging system on Phoenix should give fabulous 3 D images of Mars. Working just like our eyes two cameras are excellent for getting depth into the photos. I was caught with my 3D glasses on near the Mars Panorama booth and asked if I would give an interview on camera. So, I answered questions about why I had come and talked about meteorites and astrophotography for a couple minutes. I know it will end up on the digital cutting room floor as scrap electrons (I always do) but it is somewhat cool to be asked.

Toward the end of our visit, we went through the Museum. There were more mock ups and full size spares on display. The Galileo was huge. I had no idea it was such a large probe. The earth bound twin of the faulty tape recorder was there. What a now antiquated thing it is. Its entire capacity was less memory than one CD. Below is a photo of the device.

There were two high point in the trip for me. One was in the Fabrication Room where a specialist showed us a machined piece of steel. It looked just like a bar of metal with ground surfaces. Then he slipped half the bar to the side a little to reveal a five-pointed star machined so well that no evidence it was two pieces could be detected. He said that if he took the two pieces completely apart it would require as much as twenty minutes realigning them so they would go back together. WOW really cool. Of course the machines and the space parts on display were also very exciting to see.


I have known for many years that rather than make a metal box from folded sheet metal they machine it from a solid block. But, to see the finished pieces was interesting. They certainly have the equipment to do the work. And we were told that it is always as clean as it was on Open House Day. You could not wish for a cleaner work environment as a machinist. The tool dispenser was really neat. It you want a certain cutter or machine tool you push buttons on a vending machine very similar to the ones we of the general public get sandwiches and sodas from. No tool crib of the past where you sign tools out across a swinging wooden half-door half-counter, and return them at the end of the day hopefully unbroken and still sharp. Oh no, it is all computerized now. With each tool individually packaged and sealed in little plastic bags, dispensed and dropped to holders at the bottom of the vending machine. There you push in a cover just like the one you push in to get your soda of chips.

For those of you that like microscopes I have included a photograph of a Nikon inspection microscope that was running at the Open House. Now that would be great to look at etched iron meteorites.

The other high point was the display of Aerogel. What can one say about this wonderful stuff? At 3 mg per cubic centimeter, it is truly, like it has been described. Solidified smoke. It looks like someone cut a cube of fog and got it to stand still. Here is a picture of a cube about 4 inches on a side. It is Areogelís properties of low density and its hundreds of thin walls that make it the material of choice for high velocity particle capture. The little hypervelocity bullets slam into the Aerogel and decelerate without blowing all the way through. They are severely damaged but from what has been found with those returned on Star Dust there is plenty to still analyze.

The Open House happens every year in May or June and I highly recommend if you are in the Los Angeles area then that you make the time to go. It is free to get in and there is always a great supply of material about all of what JPL does available also for free.

By way of a couple historical notes.

This month marks the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the final shaft outside Meteor Crater. It was to be a thousand feet deep and then by tunneling horizontally reach the mass of meteoritic material encountered by the south rim drill. It like others flooded and was abandoned. It marked the end of explorations by D. M. Barringer. Some geophysical studies and drillings followed but no more shafts after this one.

Also, this month brings us to the 100th  anniversary of the Tunguska Explosion. Our closest near miss to a deadly impact event. Siberia being so thinly populated no one was killed. Yet, the blast is still being called a multi-megaton size event. Some debate continues as to the type of object that caused the explosion. It seems that a chondrite body is now the most likely candidate.