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Mars meteorites reunited after long split

The two fragments of a Mars meteorite dubbed NWA1195 fit together perfectly, scientists said.
The two fragments of a Mars meteorite dubbed NWA1195 fit together perfectly, scientists said.  

By Richard Stenger

(CNN) -- Separate nomadic bands in northwest Africa have discovered two martian meteorites, bringing the total of identified red planet rocks to 26, planet scientists announced this week.

One of the specimens consists of two fragments that scientists speculate broke apart thousands of years ago during natural erosion on Earth, but no one knows for sure when they split.

"Maybe they were kicked apart by a camel," joked Tony Irving, a University of Washington planetary geologist who studied the stones.

North Africa abounds in meteorites, which can fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars from collectors. For that reason, the nomadic Berbers who search for precious rocks are reluctant to reveal where they find them.

According to NASA researchers, the meteorites were likely recovered in eastern Morocco or western Algeria.

In March, veteran meteorite hunters Adam and Greg Hupe were in Seattle, Washington, looking at prospective meteorites sent from Morocco when an unusual shard weighing 1.8 ounces (50 grams) caught Adam's eye.

New Mars meteorites: Inside and out 

"When Adam spotted a Mars rock in a dealer's batch of suspected meteorites, the nomads returned to the spot where they gathered it and discovered a second Mars rock 15 meters [50 feet] away," said NASA's Ames Research Center in a statement.

The Hupes obtained the second fragment, which weighs 9.4 ounces (265 grams), and found that it fit perfectly with the first, despite the fact the two had weathered the blistering desert conditions separately for quite some time.

Another Africa find

In February, the Hupes purchased a completely different red planet meteorite, weighing 16 ounces (456 grams), at a gem and mineral show in Tucson, Arizona. Likewise, the stone is thought to have landed in the Sahara desert.

"[It] is believed to have been found in western Algeria, but this is hard to confirm because the Berber nomads will not disclose its exact location," said a report on NASA's Mars meteorite Web site.

The origin of the two meteorites, dubbed NWA 998 and NWA 1195, was verified with the help of scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle and the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C.

Mars meteorite NWA998 tips the scales at 16 ounces (456 grams).
Mars meteorite NWA998 tips the scales at 16 ounces (456 grams).  

"There's no question that these are Mars rocks," said Irving. Due to the presence of a rare blend of oxygen isotopes in them, "there's really no where else they could have come from."

An estimated 20,000 meteorites strike the Earth every year, but only a handful are thought to come from Mars.

The most controversial red planet specimen, known as ALH84001, is thought by some to contain fossilized evidence of microbial life.

Scientists speculate that Mars meteorites broke off from the red planet and traveled through space for eons as the result of violent collisions with comets or asteroids.


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