Guided Exploration: Origins


HoM Tour Map: Origins

Overview: Because Earth is dynamic, all the material on its surface has changed since the planet formed some 4.6 billion years ago. Some meteorites, on the other hand, have remained unchanged as they travel through the vacuum of space, so they contain important information about physical and chemical processes at work in the early solar system. The chondrite meteorites in this section are the most common type collected on Earth.

1. These three cases “take apart” primitive meteorites into three components:

Chondrules: Under a microscope, these glassy beads are revealed in the thin section of Allende. Read about what the chemical composition of primitive meteorites tells us about the solar system.


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When our solar system began to take shape some 4.6 billion years ago, the Sun and planets as we know them today did not exist.

CAIs: Calcium-aluminum inclusions are the oldest rocks that formed in our solar system. Investigate how scientists determine the age of mineral inclusions, and why that information is significant.

B.3. CAIS min.jpg

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A solar system such as our own begins when a massive gas and dust cloud collapses on itself and starts to spin. 

• Matrix: Dust from the early solar system has been preserved as matrix, a dark, fine-grained material sur­rounding chondrules and CAIs. Explore why some meteorites, such as Murchison, are black like tar and others are much lighter in color. Don’t miss the presolar grains extracted from the Allende meteorite.

B.4. MATRIX min

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The void of outer space is not so empty after all: the galaxies are awash in tiny mineral crystals, known commonly as dust grains.

2. To learn more about the early formation of the solar system, explore these three cases:

Parent Bodies: By analyzing their composition, scientists can determine if meteorites came from the same source. Find three meteorites (Kunashak, Kyushu, Suizhou) and explore why they may have belonged to the same parent body. Even though they fell to Earth at different times and places, their composition is identical.


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Parent bodies

In just a few thousand years, the solar system evolved from a collection of small particles sticking together to an assortment of larger bodies known as planetesimals—precursors of the planets.

Solar System: The chemical makeup of meteorites and the planets in our solar system relates to distance from the Sun. Compare the chemistry and origin of three different meteorites (Eagle, Farmington, Banten).


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Solar system

The early solar nebula was a turbulent mixture of the chemical elements, including hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, iron and silicon.

Planetesimals: Meteorites record the processes — such as heating, melting, and pulverizing — that occured when objects in the early solar system collided. Examine the specimens and explore the processes.


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The small particles drifting in orbit around the developing Sun were initially no bigger than grains of sand.