The third best place to find meteorites
By Najah al Riyami –
Not many of us know that statistically Oman is the third best place in the world to find meteorites.
Recently the Public Knowledge Library welcomed Dr Beda A Hofmann from the Natural History Museum of Bern and Dr Edwin Gnos from the Natural History Museum of Geneva, who gave a talk on the Meteorites in Oman, providing an insight into just how special Oman was in terms of its relevance to meteorite enthusiasts and hunters.
Of 48,163 official meteorites found worldwide, 3,274 meteorites were found in Oman alone, making up 6.8 per cent of the world’s meteorites, and ranking Oman third in the number of meteorites found in the world after the Antarctica and Northwest Africa. It is also the first country on the list and the smallest territory compared to the previous two regions.
Dr Gnos opened the talk giving us a general introduction to meteorites, describing what a meteorite is and how we might recognise them, as well as where they came from, while Dr Beda A Hofmann concluded the talk with information about the Meteorite search in Oman and Statistics. I found it interesting to note that this space matter (known as a meteor before it reaches Earth) often comes from the asteroid belt but may also originate from mars, the moon or comets. It loses 90 per cent of its mass while making their way through the atmosphere.
Specific meteorites get their names based on the location they are found in and the total number of meteorites found in that place. Such as the example given by Dr Edwin Gnos, if a meteorite were to be found in Muscat (where none have been found as of yet) then it would be called Muscat001, given that it would be the first meteorite to be found specifically in Muscat.
As was explained, these meteorites are important, because “what we know about the age of the Solar System is basically from them.”
Many meteors have a dark outer later due to its journey through the atmosphere.
This plays a role in enabling their discovery against Oman’s landscape, making them more visible to the human eye. However, in time weathering will erode this outer layer and it is then more difficult to tell the difference between these space-rocks and surrounding earth rocks.
Some of us remember the issues brought to light by the media such as American meteor hunter who was jailed for two months who intended to return home with 35 meteorites he found in Oman.
While the legal situation was said to be not absolutely clear just yet, it was suggested why such action might take place. ‘Meteorites are not just rocks’ they are a glimpse at the wider universe, a fragment of the solar system, from ‘out there’ that we can study to tell us the facts that are out of this world.
However, according to the Unesco convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property, meteorites are listed as cultural property falling under the category of ‘rare collections and specimens of fauna, flora, minerals and anatomy, and objects of paleontological interest.
Currently meteors found in Oman are sent abroad to be studied. These are always listed, however, as the property of the Sultanate of Oman. More meteorite professionals are needed in Oman.
Fun facts about meteorites:
• Space matter is known as meteor until it passes through the atmosphere. Once on earth it is known as a meteorite.
• While five hundred meteorites are assumed to reach earth every year, only five or six are found by scientists to study.
• A meteorite more than ten meters in diameter is known as an asteroid.
• A meteorite less than 2 mm in diameter is known as a micrometeorite.
• A 1985 study estimated that a meteorite will hit a human once every 180 years.