Meteorites Bring the Building Blocks of Life

Meteorite Day at the Museum May 23, 2015 Visit us at the Rice NW Museum on Saturday, May 23, for our annual Meteorite Day. There will be guest lectures and special events for the family all day.

Scientific American reports that life began on meteorites. Well, actually the ingredients necessary to start the building blocks of life on this planet did.

The molecules that kick-started life on primordial Earth could have been made in space and delivered by meteorites, according to researchers in Italy. The group synthesised sugars, amino acids and nucleobases with nothing more than formamide, meteorite material and the power of a simulated solar wind, replicating a process they believe cooked up a prebiotic soup long before life existed on Earth.

Formamide is a simple organic compound first suggested as a starting material for the formation of prebiotic biomolecules back in 2001. The chemical has been detected in galactic centres and stellar nurseries, as well as comets and satellites. These latest experiments show that formamide, irradiated by the solar wind…and in the presence of powdered meteorites, gave rise to amino acids, carboxylic acids, sugars and nucleosides—the building blocks of DNA and RNA.

The scientists speculate that this could mean that life formed on other planets might share similarities with the life formed on earth.

Gibeon Meteorite at the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals.The Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals features many meteorites on exhibit discovered all around the world from Russia, Argentina, Namibia, the United States, and Australia. The extensive meteorite exhibit was put together by the Cascadia Meteorite Laboratory from the Geology Department of Portland State University.

Take a moment as you enter the main gallery area near the entrance to run your fingers across the large Gibeon meteorite found in Africa for a bone chilling sensation. Made mostly of iron, touch it and know that you’ve actually touched space metal and maybe even the ingredients to life on this planet.

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Volcano Watch and Educational Resources

Interested in volcanoes? The staff at the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals are fascinated not only by volcanoes but the geology of them as well. We’ve put together a collection of online resources to help you learn more about active and inactive volcanoes.

United States Geological Survey Volcano Hazards Program

Mount St. Helens Eruption - credit Simple English Wikipedia.The United States Geological Survey features a Volcano Hazards Program website with an interactive map displaying volcanoes worldwide and their active status, from dormant to high red level warnings. You will also find the latest news on volcanoes, especially those in North America and the United States. Recent reports and photographs of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii are fascinating as the lava moves down roads and into agricultural areas on the big island of Hawaii.

You will find Webcams, educational information on US volcanoes, Podcasts and Videos, Elevated Volcanic Activity Updates, Monitoring data, and an amazing Photoglossary with photographs and definitions of volcanic terms.

For the locals living in and around the Rice Museum, the Cascades Volcano Observatory keeps us informed as to activity in the Cascade Mountains from Washington to Northern California. They reported in February on a new study that designates the at-risk areas of Washington State and Oregon.

Washington State lahar-hazard zones contain an estimated 191,555 residents, 108,719 employees at 8,807 businesses, 433 public venues that attract visitors, and 354 dependent-care facilities with individuals who will need assistance to evacuate during an emergency. Mount Rainier lahar-hazard zones contain the highest percentage of assets, followed by Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams. Residential populations within lahar-prone areas increased between 1990 and 2010, mainly in the Mount Rainier lahar-hazard zone, with some communities doubling and tripling their at-risk population. Many of these new residents may be unaware of the lahar threat.

See the Simplified Hazard Maps for the Cascade Volcano area for fascinating details on the Volcano Hazard Zones. Continue reading

15,000 Year Old Agate Knife Found in Oregon

Orange Agate from Rimrock Draw Rockshelter Excavation - Bureau of Land Management Oregon held in hand.OPB Radio reported on the amazing archaeological discover of a knife carved from agate currently estimated from 15,000 years ago in Eastern Oregon, evidence of what could be the oldest human occupation west of the Rocky Mountains, shaking up many theories on North American human history.

Carved from clear orange agate, the stone knife has been described as a Swiss Army Knife of its day with a serrated point edge like a saw and a steep, flaked edge used to carve wood and scrape hides and cut meat from the bones of prey. Blood found on the stone has been tested and found to be Bison antiques, an ancient ancestor of the modern bison or buffalo in North America. Continue reading

30,000 Diamonds

A rare diamondiferous peridotite has been found in the Udachny Diamond Mine. The Russian mine is one of the 10 deepest open-pit mines on Earth. A chunk the size of a golf ball has geologists counting the micro-diamonds imbedded within the rock.

In addition to diamonds, the 10.5 g rock contains specks of red and green garnet and other minerals.

Prof Taylor and his colleagues examined it using a giant X-ray machine to study the diamonds and their relationships with associated materials.

They also beamed electrons at the materials inside the diamonds to study the chemicals trapped inside.

This created 2D and 3D images which revealed a relationship between minerals.

…The images also showed abnormal carbon isotopes for this type of rock, indicating it was originally formed as part of the crust of the Earth, withdrawn by tectonic shifts and transformed into the shimmery rock scientists see today.

Along with the 30,000 diamonds fused into the peridotite are red and green garnets making for a beautiful and unusual specimen.

screen shot of sci-news 30000 find

Popocatepetl and Colima Volcanoes in Mexico Erupting

A webcam focused on Mexico’s volcano, Popcatepetl captured ash erupting, erupt ash from the snow covered upper slopes today. This is one of two active volcanoes in Mexico, the other being Colima with two explosions over this past weekend with ash plumes reaching an estimated 10,000 feet/3km into the skies over the volcano.

It’s been over 100 years since Colima was the site of a large eruption so researchers are studying reports as people prepare to evacuate if the volcano continues to show activity.

According to reports from CENA PRED Mexico, the translated report for the recent activity on Popcatepetl states:

In the last 24 hours the monitoring system of Popocatepetl volcano registered 57 exhalations accompanied by emission of steam, gas and ash. The most significant was presented at 06:57 and recorded 57 minutes of tremor. During the night glow was observed over the crater.

Over a 24 hour period on January 4, CENA PRED reported the Popocatepetl volcano was under a “yellow” alert as they reported “113 low-intensity exhalations” and explosions of “low to intermediate intensity. Continue reading

Volcano in Iceland Stops Air Traffic

National Geographic answers the question, “Why Iceland’s volcanoes have vexed humans for centuries?”

Witze says that Iceland’s volcanoes have affected human communities for more than a thousand years and that Bárđarbunga is responsible for the largest eruption anywhere on Earth in the last 10,000 years.

Some of the most famous ones in the last couple of decades have been Surtsey, a brand-new island that rose from the waves off the southern coast in 1963, and Heimaey, another island where in 1973 an eruption began in the middle of the night, in the middle of a town.

But if you go further back in time you can find much more devastating examples. In the year 1104, the volcano Hekla covered more than half the island with pumice. And in 1783, Laki erupted for eight months, pouring out the biggest lava flow in recorded history. Laki also emitted more than 100 million tons of sulfur dioxide, which drifted over Europe to form a choking fog that damaged crops and changed the climate for years.

Iceland has approximately 30 volcanoes, and Bárđarbunga, the largest volcano in that part of the planet, is threatening to erupt. Air traffic over the area is currently suspended.

The Iceland Meteorological Office features a live webcam of the glacier covered volcano.

We recently covered volcanoes and the havoc they cause in our story on the Mt. St. Helens Volcano.

Earthquake Science

On Sunday, August 24, 2014, a magnitude 6.0 earthquake struck the Napa Valley of California. According to the National Geographic, the event was centered about 6.7 miles under the earth and was one of the largest in the area since the 1989 Loma Prieta quake that measured 7.0.

Today’s quake was reported by the Earthquake Report Center from San Francisco to Sacramento and classified as a “typical strike-slip earthquake with a mainly horizontal movement.” They called it the “most dangerous earthquake type in the world.” Their web page monitors and updates news about the earthquake.

While reports are still coming in, initial reports suggest this earthquake was triggered by a crack or fault in the earth’s crust known as the Franklin Fault, thought to be dormant for 1.6 million years. Continue reading

Rare Film Footage of Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Eruption

Last year, rare footage of a documentary on Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption from the late 1980s was shared on YouTube.

The documentary shows old photographs from before the eruption dating back to the 1950s, exploring the campgrounds, parks, lakes, and forested areas, now changed forever by the destructive forces of the volcano erupting in 1980. Mount St. Helens formed 275,000 years ago.

March 27, 1980, the volcano erupted, closing the Gifford Pinchot National Park, and bringing thousand of scientists and forest service experts to the mountain to document every moment of this monumental event. May 18, 1980, the volcano exploded at 8:32am, killing 57 people, and destroying 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railroad, and 185 miles of highway. For over nine hours, the plume of ash rose approximately 16 miles above sea level, moving eastward at about 60 miles per hour, reaching Idaho by noon, and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, by the next day. A debris avalanche triggered by the explosion and earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale, releasing 24 megatons of thermal energy. It reduced the mountains summit from 9,677 to 8,365 feet, leaving a one mile wide horseshoe-shaped crater, becoming one of the most deadliest and economically destructive volcanic events in the history of the United States.

Mt. St. Helens eruption was classified as a VEI 5 event, the only significant such event to happen in the contiguous 48 United States since the 1915 eruption of Lassen Peak in California. Before 1980, the last eruption of St. Helens was 130 years ago. Continue reading

History of the Solar System Found in Meteorite

Science Daily reports that planetary scientists from Curtin University found that a unique volcanic meteorite recovered in Western Australia may reveal the violent history of our solar system.

Associate Professor Fred Jourdan, along with colleagues Professor Phil Bland and Dr Gretchen Benedix from Curtin’s Department of Applied Geology, believe the meteorite is evidence that a series of collisions of asteroids occurred more than 3.4 billion years ago.

“This meteorite is definitely one-of-a-kind,” Dr Jourdan said.

“Nearly all meteorites we locate come from Vesta, the second largest asteroid in the solar system. But after studying the meteorite’s composition and orbit, it appears it derived from a large, unidentified asteroid that was split apart during the collisions.”

The research team dated the meteorite with the argon-argon technique, a well-known method for dating impact crater events, to offer a glimpse of the asteroid’s impact history.

Falling to earth in 2007 and believed to originate from Vesta, the scientific team found that the meteorite had not a single impact after 3.4 billion years ago until it arrived on earth, and they recorded three impact events between 3.6 billion and 3.4 billion years ago. This information confirms that some of the bombardment history of the solar system ended after 3.4 billion years, helping scientists with the timeline of the evolution of our region of space.

Meteorites on exhibit at the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals.You can read more about this discovery on the report from Curtin University.

The Rice Northwest Museum is home to an outstanding collection of meteorites on exhibit in cooperation with the Cascadia Meteorite Laboratory of Portland State University. Each May, the museum celebrates the Annual Meteorite and Family Fun Day with extensive special exhibits, demonstrations, lectures, and more.

Interested in learning more about meteorites? Read our Meteorite article and visit the museum to touch the Gibeon Meteorite from Africa.

Curiousity Rover Finds Its First Meteorite on Mars

This week it was announced that NASA’s Curiosity Rover has found its first iron meteorite on Mars. The meteorite represents a time capsule for scientists to study and learn more about our universe.

Photograph from Curiousity on Mars of the largest Iron Meteorite found on Mars. Image by NASA.

Meteorites found on Mars are of special interest as they had little atmosphere to pass through on their way to the planet, and little weather to wear them away, keeping them almost as pristine as when they arrived in our solar system. Continue reading