The Edmond Sun


March 7, 2013

Rocks tell their own, intriguing story

SPOKANE — I think the most memorable single day of all my years as a student was the afternoon I got to examine moon rocks in graduate school.

Rocks here on Earth are exposed to water throughout their existence, and water acts to break down mineral grains on a tiny scale. If you look at thin slices of rock under a microscope — a normal activity for geologists like me — you see this tiny breakdown at work. To use a technical term, the mineral grains appear “cruddy” because they are breaking down to minerals like clay due to the presence of water.

What impressed me so much about the moon rocks we looked at that memorable afternoon was that they were pristine — they had not reacted with liquid water over time because there isn’t water on the surface of the moon. So looking at the thin sections of moon rocks under the microscope was close to breathtakingly beautiful — the little mineral grains were perfectly formed and preserved.

We had to send people to the moon to bring back the samples I looked at as a student. But sometimes Mother Nature does the hard work of bringing to Earth pieces of the moon and even more distant planets in the solar system. They arrive as meteorites, raining down from the skies.

Recently there’s been some news about a meteorite breaking up over Russia. There’s also been news about a highly unusual and interesting meteorite that landed in Northwest Africa. The glad tidings were published in Science and a piece about them appeared in Science News. The meteorite was given a name based on where it was found, so it’s called Northwest Africa 7034. It’s a piece of Mars — we know that from its chemical composition. NWA 7034 looks like the rocks examined by NASA’s Spirit rover in Gusev Crater.

Meteorites can be dated in the same way that rocks here on Earth can be assigned dates. From “parent/daughter” calculations we can say that NWA 7034 is about 2.1 billion years old. On Earth, geologists would call that time part of the Proterozoic Eon. “Proto” implies earlier, and “zoic” comes from the Greek word for life. Life on Earth 2.1 billion years ago was quite simple, being made up largely of single-celled organisms in the oceans.

On Mars a different set of names describes time. NWA 7034 formed during what’s known on the Red Planet as the Amazonian. Some 2.1 billion years ago stands near the time of linkage between an earlier wet and warm Mars and the dry and cold planet we know today.

One of the really interesting things about NWA 7034 is that it contains a lot of water. Scientists believe the water inside NWA 7034 came from Mars, and is not contamination from the Earth, because of the different ratios of hydrogen types found in the sample.

As further analysis is done on the little meteorite, more information may be teased out of it. That’s good for those of us interested in Mars beyond tales of little green men.

E. KIRSTEN PETERS was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.


Text Only
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Why poverty across the world matters to Americans

    A child starving in South Sudan should matter to Americans. That was the message delivered last week by Nancy Lindborg, whose job at the U.S. Agency for International Development is to lead a federal bureau spreading democracy and humanitarian assistance across the world.
    That world has reached a critical danger zone, with three high-level crises combining military conflict with humanitarian catastrophes affecting millions of innocents in Syria, the South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
    But back to that child.

    April 18, 2014

  • Government leadership complicit in overfilling prisons

    One of the thorniest problems facing any society is the question of what to do with transgressors. Obviously, the more complicated a culture becomes, the more factors come into play in trying to figure out what to do with those who choose not to “play by the rules.”

    April 18, 2014

  • My best days are ones normal people take for granted

    It is a weekend for working around the house. My fiancee, Erin, and I have the baby’s room to paint and some IKEA furniture to assemble. I roll out of bed early — 10:30 — and get into my wheelchair. Erin is already making coffee in the kitchen.
    “I started the first wall,” she says. “I love that gray.” Erin never bugs me about sleeping late. For a few months after I was injured in the Boston Marathon bombings, I often slept 15 hours a day. The doctors said my body needed to heal. It must still be healing because I hardly ever see 8 a.m. anymore.

    April 18, 2014

  • Instead of mothballing Navy ships, give them to our allies

    A bitter debate has raged in the Pentagon for several months about the wisdom of taking the nuclear aircraft carrier George Washington out of service to save money. The Washington, at 24 years old a relatively young vessel, is due for a costly refit, a routine procedure that all of the 11 large carriers in service undergo regularly.

    April 18, 2014

  • The pessimist’s guide to grizzly bears and Earth Day

    This coming Friday, to “celebrate Earth Day,” the Walt Disney Co. will release one of those cutesy, fun-for-all-ages, nature documentaries. “Bears” is about grizzly bears.
    The trailer says, “From DisneyNature comes a story that all parents share. About the love, the joy, the struggle and the strength it takes to raise a family.”
    Talk about your misguided “Hollywood values.” I previously have acknowledged a morbid, unreasonable fear of grizzly bears, stemming from a youth misspent reading grisly grizzly-attack articles in Readers Digest. This fear is only morbid and unreasonable because I live about 1,500 miles from the nearest wild grizzly bear. Still. ...

    April 16, 2014

  • Digging out of the CIA-Senate quagmire

    Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., voted to declassify parts of its report on the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program. The White House, the CIA and the Senate still have to negotiate which portions of the report will be redacted before it is made public. But this is an important step in resolving the ugly dispute that has erupted between the intelligence committee and the intelligence agency.
    The dispute presents two very serious questions. Was the program consistent with American values and did it produce valuable intelligence? And is effective congressional oversight of secret activities possible in our democracy?

    April 15, 2014

  • Los Angeles Times: Congress extend jobless benefits again

    How’s this for irony: Having allowed federal unemployment benefits to run out in December, some lawmakers are balking at a bill to renew them retroactively because it might be hard to figure out who should receive them. Congress made this task far harder than it should have been, but the technical challenges aren’t insurmountable. Lawmakers should restore the benefits now and leave them in place until the unemployment rate reaches a more reasonable level.

    April 14, 2014

  • Many nations invested in Israel

    Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Yoram Ettinger recently spoke to a gathering at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life and Learning in Oklahoma City. The event began with a presentation by Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, who told the attendee that the  upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover was an occasion for them to embrace the children of God, which is all of humanity.

    April 14, 2014

  • Coming soon: More ways to get to know your doctor

    Last week, the federal government released a massive database capable of providing patients with much more information about their doctors.
    The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the government agency that runs Medicare, is posting on its website detailed information about how many visits and procedures individual health professionals billed the program for in 2012, and how much they were paid.
    This new trove of data, which covers 880,000 health professionals, adds to a growing body of information available to patients who don’t want to leave choosing a doctor to chance. But to put that information to good use, consumers need to be aware of what is available, what’s missing and how to interpret it.

    April 14, 2014

  • HEY HINK: Hateful bullies attempt to muffle free speech

    Hopefully we agree it should be a fundamental right to voice criticism of any religion you wish. And you should have the right to sing the praises of any religion you choose. If criticism of religion is unjust, feel free to make your best argument to prove it. If criticism is just, don’t be afraid to acknowledge and embrace it. If songs of praise are merited, feel free to join in. If not, feel free to ignore them. But no American should participate in curbing free speech just because expression of religious views makes someone uncomfortable.

    April 11, 2014


Do you agree with a state budget proposal that takes some funds away from road and bridge projects to ramp up education funding by $29.85 million per year until schools are receiving $600 million more a year than they are now? In years in which 1 percent revenue growth does not occur in the general fund, the transfer would not take place.

     View Results