Martian meteorite that landed in Northwest Africa

We know that pieces of the Red Planet fell here because of the robot Viking spacecraft that landed on Mars in 1976. Six years after those landings, Drs. Johnson and Bogard were studying an unusual meteorite here on Earth, with a most unusual name — Elephant Moraine 79001, found in Antarctica in 1979. The two scientists made an astonishing discovery: tiny amounts of gas trapped within vugs in the 79001 meteorite were a close match to the thin atmosphere of Mars, as recorded by the Viking landers. The experiment was later repeated and confirmed by looking at several other Martian meteorites, clearly indicating their origin point. And what a fiery and furious life they’ve had! Blasted off the surface of their home planet by other meteorite impacts (the impactors likely being large asteroid fragments), they wandered in space until falling here.

The improbable origin story of Martian meteorites makes them plenty rare — what are the chances that something would be blasted off a smaller planet that is, on average, 140 million miles away and then land on ours? Couple that with the fact that Martian meteorites are fragile; they are essentially cooled lava from another planet and contain little or no metal, meaning that — unlike most meteorites — metal detectors and magnets cannot be used to recover them, making them notoriously difficult to identify and recover in the field.

In this exclusive and informative YouTube educational short below, planetary scientist Dr. Tanya Harrison talks about her work, martian meteorites, and some of the wonders of the mysterious Red Planet.


Martian meteorite, basaltic shergottite
Found in Libya, May 1, 1998

Dar al Gani 476, or DaG 476, was named after the region of the Libyan Sahara in which it was found on May 1, 1998. Deserts are prime meteorite hunting locales because they’re flat, relatively featureless, and light-colored areas where rocks of cosmic origin can be easily spotted against stand and terrestrial pebbles. DaG 476 is classified as basaltic Martian shergottite and is composed of pyroxene, olivine, and feldspathic glass, with small amounts of impact melt pockets and other materials.

Martian shergottites are named after the Shergotty meteorite that fell in India in 1865 and consist of two subgroups, basaltic and iherzolitic. DaG 476 belongs to the basaltic variety; these are meteorites which may have crystallized as recently as 180 million years ago, which is surprising to researchers considering how old they believe the surface of Mars to be. These meteorites are silicate–referring to the crystallization of molten material as it cools–rocks, which scientists believe may have originated from the crater Mojave, believed to be 3 million years old. Mojave, named after the Mojave Desert in the southwest because of their similar landforms, is estimated to be the youngest rayed crater on Mars.

Chemical analyses of meteorites tell a story scientists can only begin to piece together about what they are, where they came from, and how they got here. Being a rock of suspected Martian origin, DaG 476 has been widely studied and analyzed in the lab to better understand the Red Planet and to explore the effects of terrestrial weathering on meteorites found in hot, desert climates.


Martian meteorite, shergottite
Found in Morocco, 2011

Northwest Africa (NWA) 6963 is a shergottite Martian meteorite that was first discovered near the river Oued Touflit in Morocco during the autumn of 2011. The shergottite group takes its name from Shergotty — a Mars meteorite that was seen to fall in Bihar, India in the year 1865.

After the initial NWA 6963 find, meteorite hunters thoroughly searched the area and additional pieces were found, some of which display a shiny, dark fusion crust. The presence of crust, together with its minimal weathering, suggest that NWA 6963 may be a fairly recent fall.

Classification was carried out at the Institute of Meteoritics at UNM Albuquerque and examination of a thin section showed the primary composition to be pyroxene (a mineral commonly found in volcanic rocks) and the glassy mineral maskelynite that is formed by shock melting in meteorites and related impacts.

We know that NWA 6963 originated on Mars because of the pioneering work of Drs. Johnson and Bogard on a meteorite that was found in Antarctica in 1979. The two scientists discovered that tiny amounts of gas trapped within the Antarctic meteorite were a close match to the thin atmosphere of Mars, as recorded by the Viking robot landers during the 1970s. This experiment was later confirmed by additional studies of several other Martian meteorites showing, without a doubt, that NWA 6963 and others like it, journeyed here to Earth from the Red Planet.


Martian meteorite, shergottite
Found near Smara, Morocco in 2012

Northwest Africa 7397 is a Martian meteorite found in the dry deserts of Africa. It was examined by meteorite scientists A. Irving and S. Kuehner at the University of Washington and classified as a shergottite. The superb slices were expertly prepared on a special hi-tech saw for maximum surface area. The amazing fragments allow you to clearly view greenish-hue interior and some specimens have fusion crust! Don’t miss your chance to own a piece of the Red Planet.


Martian meteorite, augite basalt
Found in Morocco, 2013

A scant 235 meteorites are listed in the Meteoritical Bulletin as Martian meteorites, making them among the most scarce commodities that any human has ever owned or touched. Of the 235 known Martians, the vast majority belong to the SNC class, that being an acronym for three celebrated Martian meteorites: Shergotty (fell Bihar, India, 1865); Nakhla (fell Al Buhayrah, Egypt, 1911); Chassigny (fell Champagne-Ardenne, France, 1815). The rare Martian polymict breccias account for another 17 recognized Martians. And, relevant to this extraordinary lot, the “Meteoritical Bulletin” lists two meteorites from Mars that exist all by themselves — literally in a class of their own.

​One is the OPX class, whose sole listed member is the puzzling Alan Hills 84001 meteorite which, after being discovered in Antarctica, caused a worldwide sensation when some researchers believed they had found signs of fossilized life within it. Examples of that meteorite are not available for sale to collectors. The other class with a sole intriguing member is described as “Martian (augite basalt)” in the bulletin. The meteorite itself is NWA 8159 and only 149.4 grams are known to exist in all of the world.


Martian meteorite, shergottite
Sound in Morocco, 2015

A Martian impact melt is most likely the result of a giant meteorite crashing into Mars and melting Martian target rock into a new form. That in itself is remarkable. As any type of impact melt — even in the abundant chondrite family — is highly unusual. So, here we have an exceptionally rare Martian impact melt that also displays vugs.

The word vug is a geological term that describes a cavity found within a rock matrix. In terrestrial formations, vugs are a prime environment for the formation of crystals of varying types. Vugs are almost never seen in meteorites. The first known Martian meteorites were identified by the small pockets of Martian atmosphere they contained. It is likely, or possible, that the comparatively large vugs in NWA 11288 once held within them the thin and alien atmosphere of Mars! The total known find weight of this rare meteorite is 407 grams. We have very few slices available.


Martian meteorite, shergottite
Found in Morocco, 2019

Northwest Africa 13227 was examined and classified by Dr. Anthony Irving of the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle and it has been recognized as an authentic piece of Mars by academia. Its official details were published in the Meteoritical Bulletin this year (2020).