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The Tissint Meteorite fell to earth on July 18, 2011 in Morocco. Currently on display in New York City, the extremely rare specimen will be auctioned on May 6, 2012 at the I.M. Chait gallery in Beverly Hills, California. Image courtesy of I.M. Chait.

Mars rocks! Rare Martian meteorite on view through Mar. 26 in NYC

The Tissint Meteorite fell to earth on July 18, 2011 in Morocco. Currently on display in New York City, the extremely rare specimen will be auctioned on May 6, 2012 at the I.M. Chait gallery in Beverly Hills, California. Image courtesy of I.M. Chait.
The Tissint Meteorite fell to earth on July 18, 2011 in Morocco. Currently on display in New York City, the extremely rare specimen will be auctioned on May 6, 2012 at the I.M. Chait gallery in Beverly Hills, California. Image courtesy of I.M. Chait.

NEW YORK – An extraordinarily rare Martian meteorite – the only one known to have impacted earth since 1962 – is on display at a New York City gallery now through March 26. Immediately following its East Coast exhibition, the stellar specimen known as the Tissint Meteorite will return to Beverly Hills, Calif., where it will be the headliner in a May 6 Natural History auction at I.M. Chait Gallery.

The meteorite made its landing near Tata, Morocco, in the early hours of July 18, 2011. Several people in the region of the Oued Drâa valley observed a bright fireball in the sky, yellow in color at first, and then turning a bright green before splitting into two parts as two loud sonic booms were heard. Not long after, nomads in the area started to find very fresh, fusion-crusted stones near the town of Tissint. Once research began on these samples, it was discovered, amid much excitement, that they had originated on Mars.

Less than 0.1% of all known meteorites are recorded as Martian in origin, and as this was the first Martian meteorite fall to be observed since 1962, it is most likely to be the only such fall to be observed in most current earth inhabitants’ lifetimes.

One of the other factors that makes the Tissint Meteorite such an incredibly significant fall is its freshness: unlike those meteorites that have lain undiscovered for years, sometimes for thousands of years, it has not been contaminated by the earth’s soil, water or bacteria, and is therefore an incredibly fresh and valuable research resource for the study of its home planet’s geology; it is even hoped that tiny air bubbles trapped in the rock may provide insight into the atmosphere of the Red Planet. The entire Tissint fall is thought to comprise little more than 10kg of material, of which the Natural History Museum of London holds a specimen weighing 1.1kg, considered to be one of the most significant specimens in their world-renowned meteorite collection and the most important meteorite of the last 100 years.

The mineralogy of Tissint matches that of other Martian meteorites, believed to have solidified from lava 400 to 500 million years ago and blasted from the planet’s surface in a single impact event approximately 1 million years ago – a comparatively recent occurrence in the 4.5 billion year history of the solar system. Most of these meteorites are categorized as “shergottites.” One characteristic of shergottites is that they frequently contain a mineral glass called maskelynite, formed from shocked feldspar; it is in the maskelynite of other meteorites that tiny gas bubbles have been found, little pockets of extraterrestrial atmosphere that provide an incredibly invaluable resource to interplanetary research scientists.

The present example weighs approximately 298 grams and measures 76 x 69 x 50 millimeters, and even by the standards of this extraordinary fall displays a superlative range of characteristics: a complete specimen, it boasts both primary and secondary fusion crust and notable orientation. The primary crust forms a finely textured, gently undulating surface; where the stone broke off from the main mass during its hurtling descent to Earth, the secondary crust started to form, an extremely thin layer of pits and highly textured patterning, dotted with gleaming, almost glass-like areas that testify to the incredible temperatures to which the rock was subjected during its fiery passage through our atmosphere.

The orientation of this meteorite is immediately evident from a pronounced, tapering lip along one side. Most meteorites turn and tumble pell-mell as they fall, but occasionally chance will have the meteorite remain in the same orientation for much of its descent. The incredible heat and pressure reforms the rock, as the leading edge noses its way through the atmosphere, resulting in this specimen’s distinctive, streamlined prow.

In addition to the completeness of this rock, its beautiful glossy black fusion crust, and the distinctive orientation, tantalizing glimpses of the stone’s interior are afforded by the natural chips resulting from the meteorite’s impact with the earth; tiny broken-off sections reveal a fascinating insight into the stone’s pale gray, finely grained interior, in striking contrast to the rich, dark fusion crust. This is a world-class, museum-standard specimen from the most significant meteorite fall for generations.

The Tissint Meteorite can be viewed daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., now through March 26 at I.M. Chait’s Manhattan gallery space; 10 a.m. till 12 noon only on Wednesday, March 21. The gallery is located on the 6th floor of the historic Fuller Building, 595 Madison Ave. at 57th St., New York, NY 10022.

For additional information about the Tissint Meteorite and its only East Coast visit prior to the May 6 auction, call 310-285-0182. Visit I.M. Chait online at www.chait.com.

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ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE


The Tissint Meteorite fell to earth on July 18, 2011 in Morocco. Currently on display in New York City, the extremely rare specimen will be auctioned on May 6, 2012 at the I.M. Chait gallery in Beverly Hills, California. Image courtesy of I.M. Chait.
The Tissint Meteorite fell to earth on July 18, 2011 in Morocco. Currently on display in New York City, the extremely rare specimen will be auctioned on May 6, 2012 at the I.M. Chait gallery in Beverly Hills, California. Image courtesy of I.M. Chait.