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Mundrabilla Meteorite

18th October 2002

There has been quite a bit of talk about the Australian Mundrabilla meteorite recently. NASA has used a special scanning machine to look inside the meteorite and got a bit of press. This story appeared in Florida Today and here is a Media Release from NASA which appeared on the list. I also visited Adelaide earlier in the year and saw the 2.5 tonne 'half stone' of the second largest Mundrabilla mass found. I posted a story about this experience on the list also. After I posted my story, Bernd Pauli was kind enough to send me a scan of a unusual post card someone sent him many years ago. The photo is below my story.


Mundrabilla in Adelaide

Thought I would share a story about Mundrabilla. I was in Adelaide earlier in the year and they actually have a 2500 kg piece of the second largest mass at the Museum. (Half the 5 or 6 tonne mass. Can't remember the exact weight.) It is located right at the front entrance. I have not seen a good photo of one of the two large masses on the internet, but 'in-person' it is a truly remarkable specimen. All those times you have read that phrase "Meteorites NEVER have holes in the surface" is completely turned upside-down. There is not one flat section of the Mundrabilla crust. It is unique in the sense that when Mundrabilla weathered, the troilite disappeared and left big holes and pockets in the surface. Some of these went very deep and curved their way right down out of sight. Others were easily big enough to fit a hand in. A truly amazing piece of natural history!!!

"A local gets to know the newest ET in town!"


NASA Researchers Probe Meteorite

A new NASA study of a one-of-a-kind meteorite found 36 years ago in Australia could help provide the science community and industry with fundamental knowledge for use in the design of advanced materials. Such materials could be used for future spacecraft, improved jet aircraft and in various manufactured goods from cars to household materials. In addition, the meteorite - now at Kennedy Space Center - could help reveal secrets about the core of our planet and its magnetic field. The 100-pound Mundrabilla meteorite sample, which is on loan to Marshall Space Flight Center from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, is being studied by MSFC and KSC, primarily through the use of KSC's Computed Tomography Scanner. Dr. Donald Gillies, discipline scientist for materials science at MSFC's Microgravity Science and Applications Department, is the Principal Investigator on the study. "Most meteorites are solid chunks of metal, surrounded by a rocky surface. This one is a combination of materials (iron-nickel and iron-sulfide) that became solid at different rates in cooling over millions of years," Dr. Gillies said. "It offers an amazing opportunity for understanding fundamentals of alloy formation." Pete Engel, an engineering specialist in Wyle Laboratory's Non-destructive Testing Laboratory at KSC, has processed the scans of the meteorite at KSC. "The CT Scanner is able to reveal the untouched internal structure of the meteorite by detecting differences in the densities of its materials," Engel said. "Without a tool like the scanner, it would be impossible to study the inside of the meteorite without altering it by sawing into it or grinding it up." The idea behind computed tomography - first used in the medical field - is to create a picture of a very thin cross section of an object by passing a very thin fan of X-rays or gamma rays through it and then repeating the process until every slice of an object is imaged in order to create a 3-D image. Dr. Gillies and Engel are conducting the meteorite CT work at KSC using gamma rays given off by a pencil lead-sized piece of radioactive cobalt as it decays. "This meteorite, like all meteorites, was formed in a lower gravity environment than here on Earth," Dr. Gillies pointed out. "Like experiments performed on the Space Shuttle or the International Space Station, this research allows us to look at fundamental science questions. Unlike our own flight experiments, this one represents a billion year solidification experiment in low gravity."


NASA uses CT scan to probe meteorite


October 17, 2002

CAPE CANAVERAL -- Engineers at Kennedy Space Center have peered into the heart of a 100-pound meteorite without cutting it open, using the same technology as a medical CT scan. But the space center's Computed Tomography Scanner is hundreds of times more sensitive than medical scans. Behind a 7,000-pound, steel-encased lead door inside the Non-destructive Testing Laboratory, engineers use a tiny piece of radioactive cobalt-60 to shoot gamma rays or X-rays through a meteorite chunk, which stands like a two-foot-tall pillar and slides along a track in between the radiation source and the sensors. Meteorites are chunks of rocks that survived a fiery entry through Earth's atmosphere and landed on the planet. The Smithsonian Institution loaned Marshall Space Flight Center the meteorite piece, which is actually part of a 6-ton meteorite that was discovered in Mundrabilla, Australia. NASA probably will return the meteorite, which could be worth up to $1 million, within the next week. "The Smithsonian's anxious to get it back," said Pete Engel, an engineering specialist with Wyle Laboratories, which operates the computer tomography machine for NASA. It took one week to get 500 scans of one millimetre each that covered most of the meteorite. Think of them as floor plans of a 500-story skyscraper. Inside, scientists are examining crystals of iron-sulfide and iron-nickel. There are also a few pockets of gas inside the meteorite. The crystals formed after the hot meteor landed and later cooled. It may take six months to a year for scientists to analyze the results. NASA regularly grows crystals on the International Space Station because they form more purely in microgravity than they do on Earth. They want to study this meteorite because the crystals formed naturally during a long exposure to space. Crystals also have industrial purposes. Crystals of mercury, cadmium and tellurium are used inside infrared cameras, Engel said. The $1 million scanning machine has been at the space center since 1985. In its time there, it has been a safety measure for the shuttle program. It scanned dents on an Orbital Manoeuvring System engine that helps the shuttle shift from one orbit to another. They have scanned wear and tear on the shuttle's landing gear and on the insulating tiles on the orbiter's outside. It can spot things on the inside that otherwise would not be possible without taking the entire device apart.


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