"The Galaxy"


Recent discoveries of extraterrestrial meteorites in Oman prove that the Sultanate is a treasure trove of natural history. The country prides itself on not only spectacular seashells, gemstones, pebbles, minerals and caves but also on extraterrestrial materials that are much sought after by geology and astronomy buffs alike.

Meteorite in the Omani desert

The discovery of several rare meteorites, including a host of Martian and Lunar rocks, in the deserts of Oman recently has lent international recognition to the Sultanate as a promising destination for scientific study.

The geology of Oman offers a cross section of almost all the rocks found in the world. What is more it contains rare extraterrestrial meteorites as well that open up new avenues of research on other planets and heavenly bodies.

View of Mars meteorite SaU 094 on Omani desert soil. Maximum size of the meteorite is seven cm

As a geological wonderland Oman holds out exciting opportunities for finding meteorites. The timeless beauty and scientific value of meteorites holds a fascination for everyone. Recent studies carried out by the Directorate General of Minerals (DGM) in association with Swiss geologists show that Oman's meteorite recoveries provide a reliable and solid base for research on extraterrestrial materials, particularly the Mars.

For the geologists of Oman and Switzerland this fascination has marked the dawn of a new era of research on the origin and development of Mars and the possibility of life on the red planet.

Meteorite researchers showing Mars meteorite SaU 094 to reporters and photographers

The idea of discovery of and research on meteorites in Oman's deserts came about following the recovery of 142 meteorites in a two-week expedition to Oman's deserts of central and southern region, organised by the DGM in January this year.

The presence of a rare Martian meteorite, namely Sayh al Uhaymir 094 (SaU 094) in a central Oman desert, and many other rare rocks confirmed that the meteorite density in Interior Oman is unusually high — more than one meteorite per square kilometre.

Each rock can be an exciting discovery with a special story to tell you about the history of the Earth or other extraterrestrial bodies. SaU 094 is, besides a few Antarctic finds, the only Mars meteorite fully available for scientific studies.

The expedition concluded that Oman could justifiably boast some of the largest and most spectacular meteorite collection areas in the world.

The team, which included four geologists from the Natural History Museum, University of Berne, Switzerland — Dr Beda Hofmann, Dr Marc Hauser, Dr Edwin Gnos, Loren Moser and an Omani geologist Ali Al Katheri, has now decided to survey all the favourable areas of Oman for the potential meteorite recovery from October this year.

Omani geologist Ali Al Katheri is documenting a meteorite close to the find location of the Mars meteorite

According to Dr Hofmann since the year 2000 several precious meteorites have been discovered in Oman. But many of them are not available for scientific study because they are in unknown private hands.

The most prized finds among them were Martian meteorites, which have opened a window on the red planet. Martian meteorites from Oman deserts offer new and extremely cost effective avenues for research on the red planet until Mars Odyssey 2001 successfully brings some rocks from the red planet after about 10 years (i.e. in 2010) on its return to the Earth.

Rocks from Mars start their journey towards Earth when a meteorite from elsewhere hits the Martian surface, scattering rocks into space at high speed.

They eventually reach the Earth, sometimes after millions of years. Initial surveys show that the many precious rocks found in Oman are a treasure house of not only the earth's geological history but also of the neighbouring planets and satellites such as the Mars and the Moon.

Unlike in the past when the meteorite search was confined to the frozen continent of Antarctica, now hot deserts in the Sahara, the Nullarbor Plain (Australia) and Oman have become important sources for meteorites.

So far 22,000 meteorites have been discovered in the world. Of these, 180 meteorites have been found in Oman alone. Of the 22,000 meteorites discovered worldwide, only 18 are Martian meteorites. Of the 180 meteorites found in the Sultanate, six are Lunar and five are Martian meteorites with a host of rare finds.

This has significantly raised Oman's profile as an important source of rare meteorites, according to geologists of the DGM and Berne University of Switzerland, who are participating in the meteorite research project.

Worldwide there is only limited information about weathering of non-Antarctic meteorites and very little about the details of interactions between weathering meteorites and the geochemistry of soils.

Cross section of the Mars meteorite SaU 094 obtained by X-ray tomography. Bright areas represent cavities containing special gases, a vital clue to life on Mars

Although deserts are known together with Antarctica, as areas where large numbers of meteorites may be recovered during systematic search campaigns, there are presently few detailed studies on the link between the surface age and meteorite densities. Oman offers the possibility to conduct detailed studies on the distribution of meteorites in the field and on their interaction with terrestrial environment.

Since no single institution, let alone single investigator, could begin to realise the scientific potential of these extraterrestrial specimens, Berne University geologists are collaborating with many other institutions for uncovering the secrets inherent in the Omani meteorites.

One of the biggest concerns bothering the meteorite experts is that most of the meteorites are being collected by private collectors for sale in the open market.

According to a note by Ron Baalke, a geologist, in Meteoritical Bulletin "While attending the Gem and Fossil show in Coasta Mesa, California on 20 May, 2000 he found that there were a number of new meteorites found in Oman being sold, including some of the rarer types such as LL6, eucrites and howardites".

Microscopic image of the SaU 094 Mars meteorite

One of the meteorite dealers selling the Oman meteorites informed that one of the Oman meteorite, named Dhofar 019, was a new Mars meteorite. The dealer said the Dhofar 019 meteorite was not at the Costa Mesa show, but about 800 grams of it will be on the market soon.

The Martian meteorite of Dhofar region (Dhofar 019), a brownish grey stone, weighing 1056 grams was found on 24 January 2000. Another Martian meteorite, Sayh al Uhaymir 051, was found in Oman on 1 August 2000. A 436 gram stone was found close to the locations of SaU 005 and 008. All three samples may be paired. The five Martian meteorites have major intrinsic value to science as well as considerable commercial value.

Dhofar, it may be noted, is also emerging as an important area for meteorite collections. One Mars and two Moon meteorites have been found in Dhofar so far among a host of other precious extraterrestrial rocks. Dhofar-081, a lunar meteorite, was found on 29 November 1999.

A brownish gray stone of 174 grams, this meteorite holds out important research avenues for geologists. Another lunar meteorite, Dhofar-280 was discovered on 14 April 2001, according to Meteoritical Bulletin. A gray stone weighing 251.2 grams, Dhofar-280 was found close to Dhofar-081 and is similar in texture and mineral chemistry. According to geologists noble gases found in the lunar meteorites of Oman offer interesting research possibilities on these precious rocks.


* Adapted from Oman Observer. Nizwa.NET is not responsible for contents.