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SIPI Students to Help ID Meteorites
SIPI Students to Help ID Meteorites
19 Dec 2000
(Source: Albuquerque Journal)

By John Fleck
Albuquerque Journal

With the help of some money from NASA, University of New Mexico scientists plan to enlist students at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in the search for meteorites.

UNM's Institute of Meteoritics gets some 200 rocks a year from members of the public who bring them in for analysis, thinking they might be meteorites, according to institute scientist Horton Newsom.

Most aren't, but the process of telling the good from the bad will offer SIPI students a lesson in geology and the chance to help make the occasional rare find, Newsom said.

Thanks to a $402,000 grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, UNM and SIPI will set up a Meteorite Identification Laboratory next year at SIPI's Albuquerque campus.

The students will learn how to help Newsom and his colleagues with the endless job of sorting through the rocks brought in by the public, hunting for real meteorites.

Sometimes people bring in pieces of lava thinking they are a meteorite - a rock that has fallen from space.

Sometimes they are slag from old mines, or "iron mill balls" of metal used in cement plant crushers.

In about 80 percent of the cases, a quick look tells the scientists all they need to rule out the possibility that the rock is a meteorite.

The rest take more careful study, sometimes using powerful electron microscopes at UNM.

The NASA money will help SIPI students learn how to judge whether a rock might be a meteorite, said Cathy Abeita, director of special programs at SIPI.

And there is a chance that one of the rocks they study will turn out to have come from space.

"We do find one or two a year," Newsom said.

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