11cm. from Mars
Over Thanksgiving break, I had the absolute pleasure of getting the opportunity to meet Brother Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican. Brother Guy is the curator of the Vatican's Metorite Collection...or in simpler terms: the pope's astronomer.
Sophie DiCarlo, of Irondequoit High School, God bless her soul, knows Brother Guy as her cousin; and knowing how interested I am in astronomy was able to set me up with the chance to meet and talk with him about his job as well as attend a lecture he gave to the parents of her younger brother's Boy Scout troop at the United Church of Christ this evening. Wow. That was a mouth full.
While in the probable, four total hours I have ever spent in his presence, I learned innumerable random things about fzx and astronomy from Brother Guy that I simply haven't the time to go over in it's entirety in one blog, so I'm going to focus on the most amazing thing he physically set before us at his lecture earlier today.
It was a rock.
Well, there were multiple rocks. Some of them were LITERALLY 4.566 billion years old and let me say they looked real great for their age. There were these tiny little pebbly ones in a glass tube that has been parts of asteroids and another two that were pieces of metorites; however, ONE was super dark, compact and solid, while the OTHER was light gray, powdery and airy...if you can use the word airy to describe a rock.
He called them 'rare.' I was so surprised...a RARE rock? Are you kidding. Rocks are not rare, welcome to Earth. BUT THEY WERE RARE ROCKS and I think that's absolutely astonishing.
We weren't even allowed to touch any of these rocks because they we so rare. He said they had been on display. These were MUSEUM QUALITY rocks. I was just enthralled that there IS an existing rock that legitimate people would be actually mad if I threw it into a lake.
Honestly, all this hype about rocks sounds pretty lame, but I am actually very excited about it...these little baby rocks are the T. J. Eckleburg glasses of the universe! I can't believe I was so close to them. Currently my cellphone is farther away from me than those rocks were not an hour ago. And 4.566 billion years ago those rocks were lost in space farther than I could ever imagine.
Finally, he came upon a black rock. It looked like something a thug would kick around at a dump. It was awesome.
He started discussing elements and what rocks are made of, typically silicon and iron, basic chemistry. And then explained that while there aren't a lot of air elements found in rocks, oxygen was in ALL of these rocks. But the 16-17-18 ratios were different because these rocks were formed in different parts of the UNIVERSE! The chemistry of these rocks was literally tampered with by the solar system...YES --> okay so important thing number 2: this black, dumpster rock he was talking about had CARBON in it...and everyone was like WHAT! And he was like yeah! Carbon? That's different than all the others! This one was also only 0.9 billion years old. Which, I mean, is a good life. But not nearly as long as the pebbles have lived. Point C => He then told us that in the largest sample of this rock, there was a stream of GLASS hardened down the middle. That means, that the surface of this planet must've carried LAVA. And in the glass strip, were BUBBLES which means there is proof of at one point: WATER. Also...it's rusted...
Someone from the back of the room goes, "IT'S FROM MARS! Is it from Mars?"
Brother Guy laughs and goes, "I'll tell you exactly why this sample cannot possibly be from Mars. You see...when we examine the size of the craters on the moon, we can evaluate how far they can launch debris. We can do that with Mars. And the craters on Mars are not NEARLY large enough to launch this chunk of rock to us."
I was very impressed. I was convinced!
Then Brother Guy goes, "Alas, from the data we have collected, the elements present and the comparisons we have made, this rock must be from a planet with the same exact, IDENTICAL, atmosphere as Mars."
Someone else, "So it's from somewhere even farther away that we don't know about?"
Brother Guy responded, "The thing is. How likely is it that there is another planet with the EXACT same atmosphere as Mars, that we do not know about, that is still close enough to have gotten remains onto Earth's surface? What are the odds? No chance. If there's one thing that I've learned about fzx, it's that if it happened, it's possible."
If it happened, it's possible. I love that. I love that so much, I will never get over the fact that he said that. I think that's so clever. And true!
He continued for just a second more:
"So yes, this is indeed a sample from the planet Mars."
And I was 11cm. away from it.