Sunday, March 4, 2007


I haven't written much about astronomy yet mostly because I haven't done any astronomy this winter. I haven't even gotten my scope out to look at the beautiful Orion Nebula which is up in the wintertime. But last Friday evening I did manage to get to the monthly meeting of the South Bay Astronomical Society. They always have a guest lecturer speak and the talks are quite good. We have the advantage in So. California of being able to draw on the huge scientific community that lives and works here for a wide variety of lecturers and topics of interest. The lecturers (and some of the members) come from JPL, UCLA, Cal Tech, as well as the many aerospace industry companies that operate in Los Angeles. Their topics range from astronomy itself and the operation of the equipment needed to do good astronomy to satellites, earth atmosphere, the Mars Rovers, quantum mechanics, and the Big Bang.

This month's lecturer was Dr. Nicholas Gessler, a professor at UCLA who teaches "Human Complex Systems" and is also an "amateur" meteorite collector. After a very brief history of man's awareness of meteors as rocks that fall from the sky, he explained to us what the various common categories of meteorites are and showed us photos of his trips to the dry lake beds of California, Arizona, and Nevada where he made his finds. Afterwards, he allowed us to come up and handle a few of the specimens in his collection some of which came from Mars and the Moon. You can view photos of what we were looking at on his Finds page. Just click on Aerolites on the left side of the page. (He needs to update his site as most of the other links do not work.)

To encourage us to go out and make our own finds, he gave us pointers on what to look for, what kind of equipment to use, and how to get our finds analyzed, recognized, and registered with the "Meteorite Committee" (I didn't know there was such a thing). He then sheepishly told us that we'd have to go farther afield than he did to find anything because he and his friends had pretty much wiped the local areas clean. I thought of trying to find a really nice clamshell at the beach.

Somehow I don't see myself traipsing out to the desert alone to spend hours looking for that special kind of rock. I'll be content to view the finds of others in a museum. Of course, you could also purchase your very own meteorite on E-Bay at the going rate of 20 cents a gram.

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