From the knights of medieval legends to Indiana Jones, the Holy Grail has been the most sought-after Christian relic in popular culture for centuries. The grail is most commonly identified as the cup that Jesus drank from at the Last Supper, and Joseph used to collect Jesus’s blood when he was crucified. The phrase “Holy Moly” is an expression of surprise or astonishment. The term “holy grail” is often used to refer to an elusive object that is sought after for its great significance. Different traditions describe it as various objects and even a stone (think of the Black Stone in the Grand Mosque in Mecca) with miraculous powers that provide happiness, eternal youth or sustenance in infinite abundance. My “holey” moly, “holey” grail stone meteorite was a pleasant surprise and has brought me much happiness, but I have yet to experience eternal youth or infinite abundance. Islamic tradition discloses that the Black Stone of Mecca fell from Heaven as a guide to Adam and Eve to build an altar, and it was supposedly white at one time until Adam and Eve sinned. The Black Stone of Mecca is supposed to absorb the sins of those who touch it and turns darker or black. My Holy Grail meteorite is dark and black in most places, but I doubt that like the Black Stone of Mecca, it absorbs sins of those who touch it and turns darker or black.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
My “Holey” Grail is a 76.6 gram whole stone Chelyabinsk meteorite. It is a very fresh stone picked up soon after the historic fall and is mostly fusion crusted. It also sports an extremely rare natural hole (not from weathering)!
The Chelyabinsk meteor fell on 15 February 2013. It was a monumental event for many reasons. It was a surprise since the object was not detected before its atmospheric entry. There were numerous videos to capture the spectacular historic event. It made worldwide news. It was witnessed firsthand by many people, and it caused a lot of damage – about 1,500 people were injured enough to seek medical attention (most from flying glass). Numerous meteorite hunters went to Chelyabinsk to obtain a piece of history. “This is the biggest event in our lifetime”, Mike Farmer asserted in an interview for OurAmazingPlanet, a sister site to Space.com when he was describing the Chelyabinsk fall. In my opinion, Chelyabinsk is one of the most historic meteorite falls of the 21st century and perhaps the most historic.
After I obtained my prized specimen, I pondered – how rare is it to have a natural hole in a whole stone meteorite? I am not talking about a hole like a vug or vesticle like those found in D’Orbigny (or other meteorites) or one created from weathering. I posed this question to a few researcher friends: Dr. Carleton Moore (ASU), Dr. Alan Rubin (UCLA) and Dolores Hill (University of Arizona & White House “Champions of Change” recipient) and they all said, they had never seen one or could not recall seeing one.
I polled many of my meteorite dealer and collector friends to see if they had ever seen a whole stony meteorite with a natural hole in it. I would estimate that all those friends had seen and handled tens of thousands of meteorites probably weighing tons over their many centuries of combined experience. There were too many people to list, and I would not want to offend any of them by accidentally leaving a friend or two off the list. I apologize to any of my friends I did not ask, and please know my intent was not to ask all my friends. Only four had ever seen one before. One of the four thinks he may have seen mine, and I would not count another one of them, but more on that later. Therefore, it was really two that had seen a stony meteorite with a hole in it.
I asked Dr. Tim McCoy, Chair, Curator-In-Charge (Meteorites) Mineral Sciences at the U.S. National Museum (Smithsonian) whether he had ever seen a stony meteorite with a natural hole. He said, he had seen them, however, he cautioned that unless the hole is fusion crusted, you can’t really say, it isn’t from weathering. It may not be from classical hydration and oxidation of metal or sulfides, but weathering can take many forms. Dr. McCoy recalled seeing a group of Eucrites from Antarctica that had such holes. They were poor in metal, but the holes cross cut the fusion crust, so they must have been formed by mechanical weathering. He suggested I refer to Nininger’s book on surface features to see if Nininger’s fairly exhaustive review of unusual features included a stony meteorite with a hole in it. I did not see any stony meteorites with holes in them in Nininger’s “Meteorites A Photographic Study of Surface Features Part 1 Shapes and Part 2 Orientation.”
My next inquiry with Dr. McCoy was what would cause a natural hole in a stony meteorite? Dr. McCoy’s response was without knowing anything about the meteorite, he mentioned that there could be any number of possibilities. He listed most to least likely to occur: (1) A clast that was less coherent or poorly lithified that separated either during initial impact that liberated the object or during atmospheric passage; (2) A material that was less resistant to atmospheric passage, such as a trolitite, but that could be a combination of atmospheric ablation and lithification (above); (3) There was nothing in the “hole.” Although exceptionally rare, vesicular meteorites are known, including among ordinary chondrite impact melt rocks (PAT 91501; see paper by Benedix et al.).
“All that said, it is often impossible to tell what “isn’t” there, but it would probably spur me to sample the meteorite to see what type it is.”
I informed Dr. McCoy that the meteorite in question was my 76.6 gram Chelyabinsk specimen that was sold to me the year of the fall. It appears the meteorite was picked up shortly after the fall. There is fusion crust surrounding both holes. I included several photos of the piece for Dr. McCoy to inspect. Dr. McCoy replied, “Interesting. In this case, I might seriously consider that this is a preferential ablation of a melt vein, which are common in Chelyabinsk.” I thought to myself, hmmmm, the “Holey” Grail! LOL
I would like to share a couple of my friends’ spectacular stony meteorites with natural holes in them. First is my friend Martin Goff of Msg Meteorites’ extraordinary 6.1kg NWA XXX with multiple holes in it. I will let the photos do all the talking.
I sent photos of Martin’s holey specimen to Dr. McCoy, so he may opine as to what caused the holes. Dr. McCoy responded, “The only thing you can say with any confidence is removal of a less durable material. We have a few such “tunnels” in our collection. We have a Canyon Diablo iron on exhibit that has several. The most likely less durable materials are sulfide, phosphide or shock melt veins and removal could have occurred during atmospheric entry or, perhaps, weathering.”
Second is Los Vientos, a 730 gram meteorite, found in the Atacama Desert, Chile, in 2017 by Tomasz Jakubowski and Jan Woreczko. My friend Tomasz told me about his cool meteorite, and he sent me photos of it. The cavity was not quite what I had in mind, because I was thinking of a hole that went all the way through or had a tunnel and came out another end like a rabbit or gopher hole. It was my fault because I did not communicate precisely enough what I was looking for. Nonetheless, we all benefitted from my inaccurate inquisition.
Finding this beauty on a meteorite hunt is a dream come true. I sent a photo of Tomasz and Jan’s stone to Dr. McCoy, and asked if his answer was the same as to what caused the hole in Martin’s meteorite. Dr. McCoy remarked, “In fairness, it’s a little less clear for holes that don’t go through. Breccias, for example, could lose a single clast producing such a hole.”
After talking with researchers and friends, it appears that stony meteorites with a natural hole in them are extremely rare – the “Holey” Grail.
I would like to thank my friend, Dr. Tim McCoy, Chair, Curator-In-Charge (Meteorites) Mineral Sciences at the U.S. National Museum (Smithsonian) for assisting me with this article and providing his insights.
I would also thank my friends Martin Goff, Tomasz Jakubowski and Jan Woreczko for their wonderful contributions.
I would also thank my friends Dr. Carleton Moore (ASU), Dr. Alan Rubin (UCLA) and Dolores Hill (University of Arizona & White House “Champions of Change” recipient) for their valuable input for this article.
Finally, I want to acknowledge all my friends who responded to my inquires about stony meteorites with natural holes in them.
Various Wikipedia: Holy Grail and Chelyabinsk meteor
Space.com: “Chelyabinsk Meteor: A Wake-Up Call for Earth”
Human World | Space February 15, 2019: “Today in science: The Chelyabinsk meteor”
Merriam-Webster.com – Holy Moly definition
History.com “What is the holy grail?” Updated Sept. 3, 2018.
Emails between Dr. Carlton Moore and Mitch
Emails between Dr. Alan Rubin and Mitch
Emails between Delores Hill and Mitch
Emails between Dr. Tim McCoy and Mitch
Emails and Facebook Private Messages between Martin Geoff and Mitch
Emails and Facebook Private Messages between Tomasz Jakubowski and Mitch
Emails and Facebook Private Messages between numerous friends and Mitch