Feature

Martian obsession

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Science  28 Nov 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6213, pp. 1044-1049
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6213.1044

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Summary

Black Beauty, a shiny, scaly-skinned, 4.4-billion-year-old rock from Mars, has arguably become the most important martian meteorite among the 75 that have fallen to Earth. At more than $10,000 per gram, it is certainly one of the most expensive. Scientists value the meteorite not only because it is the oldest martian meteorite, but also because it appears to be the first sedimentary one—a rock made of pieces that were eroded, transported, and deposited by wind or water. The meteorite is a breccia—a rock made of smaller rocks, fused in a fine-grained matrix—and so each of the embedded pebbles has a story to tell. But Black Beauty's story on Earth—from the nomad who found it in the dunes of the western Sahara to the wealthy weight loss doctor who now owns most of the meteorite—is also important, because it illuminates the symbiotic relationship between meteorite hunters, collectors, and scientists.