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Visits Limited for Martian Meteorite

From: RSchatte@aol.com
Date: Sun, 5 Oct 1997 18:59:33 -0400 (EDT)
Fwd Date: Sun, 05 Oct 1997 23:06:39 -0400
Subject: Visits Limited for Martian Meteorite


---------------------
Forwarded message:
Subj:    Visits Limited for Martian Meteorite
Date:    97-10-05 12:12:59 EDT
From:    AOL News

.c The Associated Press</I></PRE></HTML>

      By MICHELLE KOIDIN

      SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) - The door to Room 237 has extra
locks, a new alarm system and a gray sign that makes it clear
what's inside: Meteorite Processing and Cosmic Dust Laboratories.

      The main attraction behind the door at Johnson Space Center's
Building 31 is a controversial 4 1/2-billion-year-old meteorite from
Mars. Dubbed ALH84001, it has been there for 12 years, but oh what
an announcement about possible life on Mars can do.

      ``It's been breathless. It's just been a yearlong race,'' said
Marilyn Lindstrom, one of the curators responsible for Room 237.
``All of it's been positive. All of it's been exciting. But all of
it's been exhausting.''

      NASA scientists went public in August 1996 with their belief
that ALH84001 contains signs of primitive life on Mars. Many of
their colleagues have disputed the claim.

      Since the announcement, requests for a look at the rock star and
pieces of it for research have intensified. So has security, with
extra locks and an added alarm system.

      A cabinet-level Japanese official, Russian cosmonauts and the
head of the European Space Agency are among 260 people who have
gotten a peek at the new celebrity. The public isn't allowed into
the lab.

      The rock, a potato-shaped, 4.2-pounder when it was discovered in
Antarctica in 1984, was launched to Earth when another meteorite
struck Mars 16 million years ago.

      Since it arrived in Houston in 1985, it has been cut into 300
pieces. The largest weighs 1.5 pounds and the smallest pieces are
as tiny as a grain of sand. Half of the pieces, including the
biggest one, remain in the Houston lab.

      Chips and slices adding up to about a tenth of the meteorite had
been distributed to scientists before the announcement. Then dozens
of requests came pouring in and 92 pieces totaling about 7 ounces
were sent out this summer after a committee spent months figuring
out which researchers should be accommodated.

      Lindstrom's office has been flooded with requests to see
ALH84001.

      ``It's slowed down, thank goodness,'' she said. ``The first
couple months we were wondering if we were ever going to get done
with it.''

      Lindstrom escorts visitors and the media into the lab. She gives
them white, nylon coats and matching hats and booties and leads
them into an elevator-sized air shower, where filtered air blows
off dust.

      Once inside the main room, the meteorite is found in a stainless
steel and glass cabinet. The portion that is usually on display,
the second-largest, is fist-sized and gray.

      ``It looks so ordinary because it's mostly one mineral,''
Lindstrom said. ``In some ways it looks more boring than other
meteorites. It's so blah.''

      The announcement about ALH84001 has inspired people from around
the world to send rocks to the lab, asking that they be analyzed in
case they are meteorites. During a normal year, the lab receives 10
or so such requests. Over the last year, more than 100 have
arrived.

      Most people get their rocks and a form letter back in the mail.

      ``I just got a rock from France, but it's not a meteorite,'' lab
scientist Cecilia Satterwhite said. ``Most people are looking to
make a quick buck. They know they're worth money. They know there's
a market out there.''

      There are 12 meteorites in the world that have been identified
as Martian and all of them have become more valuable as a result of
the announcement, Lindstrom said. Johnson Space Center has five of
them.

      Rock ALH84001 is priceless, not only because of the NASA finding
but because it is a geologic great-great-great-grandfather compared
with others, Lindstrom said.

      ``This rock is 4 1/2-billion-years-old. That's as old as the
planet. That's as old as the solar system just about,'' Lindstrom
said. ``It's the very earliest thing that formed on Mars.

      ``You can get philosophical about that if you want to - you
know, that we were supposed to find it,'' she added. ``You can play
whatever kinds of mind games you want with the fact that we've got
it.''
      AP-NY-10-05-97 1202EDT
Copyright 1997 The Associated Press.  The information
contained in the AP news report may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without
prior written authority of The Associated Press.





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