Lunar Martian Vestan Others About Contact

A Brief History of Meteoritics 3



The pioneering publications of Chladni, Howard, and Biot kindled a lively interest in the study and collection of meteorites. Major museums and institutions throughout the world started their own meteorite collections, some of which have become famous for their meteorites, such as the Natural History Museum, London, England, the Natural History Museum, Vienna, Austria, the National History Museum, Paris, France; the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, Germany, and the American Museum of Natural History, New York, USA, just to name a few.  

Brief History of Meteoritics

> The Pallas Iron & E.F. Chladni
> Wold Cottage, and L'Aigle
> The Evolution of Meteoritics
> Meteoritics meets Space Age

Museums, Microscopes, and the Evolution of Meteoritics

Besides the macroscopic studies of a growing number of meteorites in institutional collections in the middle of the 19th century, the invention of the petrographic microscope helped a new generation of scientists to recognize the common features of certain meteorites and led to a complex classification system that is still valid today.

The German naturalist, chemist, philosopher, and early private meteorite collector Karl Ludwig von Reichenbach is said having been the first to study the minerals and textures of meteorites with a microscope in 1857. In the 1860s, Henry Clifton Sorby created the first thin sections of rocks and minerals for microscopic study, while Nevil Story-Maskelyne designed a polarizing microscope in 1861 - a microscope which would be the first to study meteorite thin sections in polarized light. Besides that, Story-Maskelyne invented the reflected light microscopy and polished sections. He also was the meteorite curator at the British Museum - all prerequesites of the evolution of meteoritics, and a first classification system that devided the known types of meteorites into three major classes: aerolites (stones), siderites (irons), and mesosiderites (stony-irons).

This classification system was later refined by Gustav Rose at the Mineralogical Museum of the University of Berlin, Germany, who created an elaborate classification system based upon texture and mineral composition of meteorites. He called the spherical bodies typically found in stony meteorites "chondrules", and he dubbed the meteorites containing them "chondrites". He also coined several other designations for meteorite classes that are still in use today, such as "howardites" or "pallasites" which he named in honor of the pioneers of meteoritics, Edward Howard and Peter Pallas.

Rose's classification system was refined, and extended by Gustav Tschermak, the director of the Mineralogical and Petrographical Institute at the University of Vienna, and by Aristides Brezina of the Natural History Museum, Vienna, Austria. Among many other things, Tschermak separated the iron meteorites into three subclasses based upon their texture after acid etching (the hexahedrites, the octahedrites, and the ataxites), while Brezina was the first to introduce the term "achondrite" into meteoritics, meaning meteorites which don't contain any chondrules. >> continue >>

Thin Section Photo of Martian Meteorite Lafayette

Thin Section of Lafayette (stone)

© Ted Bunch

Picture of a Historic Petrographic Microscope, Leitz 1924

Historic Petrographic Microscope

Imprint | Email

Copyright © 2006-12 by N. Classen