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The Story of Two Meteorites

I rarely have two meteorites in the process of being classified at the same time. But that is exactly what has happened twice during recent months.

This story actually begins with a pair of meteorites that Jason Phillips and I bought a year ago and how that transaction changed the way I wanted to do foreign purchases in the future. We had been offered all of the eucrite stones that had been recovered from a location and also a brachinite that was guaranteed to be a brachinite. Well, we could look at the images sent of the eucrite stones and tell they were right with no doubt. The brachinite on the other hand was a group of pretty weird-looking stones. And to be honest I have not had a lot of experience with rough brachinites straight from the field. Well, we sent the money off and received the stones and we immediately expressed some doubts about the brachinite. But we were still sure we could get our money back since we had dealt with this dealer before and we had his “guarantee.” This is where I would insert a googlie eye emoji if it was a text message. I am supposed to know better at my advanced age. Well, we sent off a piece of both stones to be analyzed and I cut a thin slice to make a thin section of the “brachinite”. I compared the thin section images I took from my slide with officially recognized brachinites, but I could find no image of a real brachinite that resembled what we had. We waited for word to come from the classifier and sure enough, it was a terrestrial sub-volcanic rock. Not a meteorite! What a burn! Well, you can guess where this went from there. Jason contacted the dealer and suddenly the brachinite was the dealer’s cousin’s material who lives on a different planet. Our guy would try to contact him when he could once the planets were realigned. After a few calls across the world, we were no longer even able to contact him. We lost our money and I lost some more of my trust in humankind.

With all that said, Jason and I continued to want to do our fun meteorite “purchase and get classified” projects. Jason went on the search for something else we could buy. This brings us to now. A dealer across the seas had a lunar meteorite for sale. The price was good and the images looked right and there was find location information and in situ images. Everything one could want.

The two lunar meteorites as they arrived. Both were quite obviously lunar feldspathic breccia stones, but no one would want to state that without a laboratory analysis.

The offer was for two stones from a new location where meteorites had never been found before. A 90-gram stone and a 294-gram stone. Well, my hands were still burning from the previous bad deal with the “not a brachinite” so I suggested to Jason that I would be very interested in buying if they would send the whole stones both of them to us to get classified before we sent the money. I realized this was going to cause the dealer tremendous culture shock since it was against all the normal methods he was used to. And this would basically remove any possibility of a scam. Jason was not in the mood to lose more money either. We both thought that the images were good. That did not mean those would be the stones received. Not surprising the dealer said, “no” initially, but then after just a couple of days he said “OK” however, he no longer had the 90 grams stone. We were disappointed since that was the stone we wanted to take the type specimen from. It was ideally shaped to have an end cut off. We answered back that we would take the 294-gram stone. Then in about a day, we heard that he had gotten the 90-gram stone back and would send both to us. So it looked like this could work and we could pay after it was analyzed. We would also have all the material that had been recovered so far.

After a delay much of which involved the FedEx hub in Memphis. The shipment finally made its way to Jason. He sent me more images and in about three days I received the stones to cut. There was no real doubt in our minds now but still being safe we did not declare the stones lunar ourselves and pay for them. I cut off the type specimen and missed my guess in creating a 20-gram piece and made it 24.9 grams. This was heavier than we needed. With lunars and Martians, it can get expensive to donate the type specimen. But guessing exactly where 20 grams is on an odd-shaped 90-gram stone is tough. I lapped and polished a very high water-wet-looking face on the type specimen. We were hoping to avoid the making of a thin section and the extra months that would require. A very highly polished face we were told would be all that was needed. The stone had a great breccia look very typical of feldspathic lunar breccias but I would have been happier if the type specimen face had shown at least one tiny sparkling speck of metal. The other side of the cut did when I showed the remainder of the 90 grammer to Paul Harris when he was over at the lab. He saw a tiny speckle of metal days later which I had missed.

With the type specimen sent off, we prepared ourselves to wait to hear for sure that the stone was lunar. As it turned out the wait was just three days. We got a message from the classifier saying he was sure it was a lunar feldspathic breccia. I planned to wait for the final word after the microprobe work before cutting the pieces into halves. But Jason said, “Go ahead and cut them, and then we will be done.” “Ok, I will” I replied. I sent him an image of the big stone chalk marked where it balanced on a knife edge into equal pieces. We had agreed that we would cut it for the largest polished face we could get.

I mounted the stone and cut it. On my saw that takes only 10-15 minutes even when going very slowly for safety. The .010-inch thick blade created very little waste which of course I collected and bottled. The big stone was identical to the small stone. It even had the same red speckled white clasts of feldspar that I had only ever seen in the other 90-gram piece when I made the type specimen. I took the pieces to the window and looked at them in the bright sunlight and was rewarded with a few of those elusive tiny metal sparkles. I had no doubts now. I lapped and polished the pieces of both the big stone and the split remainder of the 90 grammer.

I work hard to put a high polish on all my work when that is appropriate but I wanted to get perfect surfaces on these lunar pieces.

I took some images with my phone so I could send them to Jason. I knew that he was waiting eagerly to see the inside of the larger stone.

I was very happy with the way the meteorite looked. It had a nice mix of white, gray, and black clasts and though they were a little subdued now that they were polished the red speckles in some of the white clasts were still visible. The outside had some melt pockets that I had photographed and sent to the classifier. And since we had only split the masses into halves Jason and I both ended up with fusion crust on our pieces. The fusion crust would not have shown much if we had sliced up the stone. There were large patches of fusion crust on both the 90-gram and 294-gram stones. The fusion crust was not super fresh but nice. Many lunars have no remaining fusion crust. The following images show these external characteristics.

We got the word on July 1st that the microprobe work was done and that the stones were indeed feldspathic lunar breccias. So with no remaining doubts and the submission going to be made to the nomenclature committee we went ahead and paid the man overseas. Jason was happy about this for he would not be getting calls every couple of days about how it was going. Not having to wait for a thin section made the process quite fast. In a few days less than a month we had heard the good word. It would have been a five to six-month process at least or longer if a thin section was ordered. This made me again think about the need for more thin section-making capacity in the meteorite field. I have made and sent thin sections along with type specimens for scientists to use. I may make that a priority in the future to speed up the process. I can if I need to produce a high-quality thin section of most meteorites in a few hours of work. A thin section was not required for this lunar and more classifications are being done without thin sections. But some scientists still like to use them and some characteristics show up better in thin sections.

This is not a thin-section image of the lunar meteorite in this article. It is of NWA 11474 a meteorite I have cut many times. Sometimes even with my digital and micrometer-controlled equipment, I will make a slice too thin for sale. I will use such a mistake sliver to make a thin section. If the stone has a sloping edge sometimes the blade will wander a bit and run downhill slightly before it starts cutting into the stone. When this happens the slice will be a little thinner. Lunar and Martian meteorites are cut so thin already that an error like that can make for a very thin slice indeed. But it is perfect for a thin section. This thin section image is from a sliver created that way. The thin section could be just a touch thinner too to be more transparent, but I have not had time to go back and thin it down yet.

It is a fact that thin section manufacturing equipment is very expensive and the skill to make thin sections of high quality is something that needs to be learned over a long time. But, we could use more thin section makers who specialize in meteorites. I like to have thin sections of the meteorites I get classified and I like to examine them and take images from them. Frankly to me as a collector what I see in SEM images does not mean much since I have no training in reading the images. But what I see optically in a thin section does tell me much about the stone.

The lunars are official now and have gotten the name El Milhas 001 they are the first stones of a new dense collection area and Jason and I are pretty happy to have gotten the real name and not a designation. Especially happy to have gotten this name with lunar feldspathic breccias.

All this was going on with the lunar meteorite when I got a text message at the Dallas airport. I was waiting for my plane to return home from the Notkin Meteorite Collection Auction. Jason had gotten more material than he expected of a eucrite. It was a meteorite that was currently being classified. He asked if I wanted to buy a big stone. Well, I had the lunar to pay for soon and I was returning from a trip that had cost more than a few dollars. But who would not want to have a eucrite stone weighing several kilos? I was thinking about it for a while trying to justify spending more money on meteorites when I have enough already in my collection. Jason sent me another message and said that Steve Arnold of Arkansas was interested in splitting the purchase with me. Now, that was good news and I said Ok to the purchase. Half as much of a huge stone was better. It would be easier to cut and lap, and it fit the budget at that moment better too. Steve and I sent Jason the money for each of our halves and Jason sent the stone to me to cut in half. Rumors were floating around the meteorite world at the time about a huge recovery of eucrite. We did not know if the stone we were buying was part of that but we knew ours was being classified.

The big 5,123 grams stone came fast from Jason and I cut it the same day that it came. I appeared to be a melt breccia and I emailed that guess to Steve and Jason. I smoothed the face on Steve’s half and sent it off. He was cutting his half into slices and it was going to a wire saw cutter who had a machine big enough to do the work. I worked a couple of hours on smoothing the face of my half and putting a fantastic polish on it. It turns out it is not the most exciting eucrite I have ever seen but it is the largest piece of eucrite in my collection. So that is great. I am only buying three or four meteorites a year now and this was a nice one, as of course was the exciting lunar.

I had missed equal halves on the cut and I took the smaller one. Steve was going to cut up his half and he would send me a small piece to balance the deal and pay for the postage I spent sending the stone to the cutter. I only wanted the piece so I would have some material to make several thin sections of the meteorite.

This eucrite is also official as of early August which worked out well for this article. It is named Jikharra 001 a eucrite melt breccia. It was the rumored meteorite recovered with a total known weight of as much as a metric ton. My piece is sitting on my desk and I am really happy I acquired it.

I enjoy the purchases I make in partnership with Jason Phillips. We have lots of fun and it creates opportunities to chat far more often than if we did not do these shared purchase/classify projects. So now I am waiting until the next nice opportunity comes along. Maybe a fantastic opportunity on a Martian or maybe a real brachinite will present itself. Who knows what the next meteorite purchase will be? I am still waiting for the meteorite that falls on our small town so I can go out and hunt in my backyard. Then the meteorite hunters of the world will come here for great fun and fellowship. Unless I find them all. It could happen. Insert a winking eye emoji here if you want. Goodbye until next time.

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