Traditionally, astronomers study stars and planets by telescope. But we can also learn about them by using a microscope – through studying meteorites. From meteorites, we can learn about the processes and materials that shaped the Solar System and our planet. Tiny grains within meteorites have come from other stars, giving information about the stellar neighbourhood in which the Sun was born.
Meteorites are fragments of ancient material, natural objects that survive their fall to Earth from space. Some are metallic, but most are made of stone. They are the oldest objects that we have for study. Almost all meteorites are fragments from asteroids, and were formed at the birth of the Solar System, approximately 4570 million years ago. They show a compositional variation that spans a whole range of planetary materials, from completely unmelted and unfractionated stony chondrites to highly fractionated and differentiated iron meteorites. Meteorites, and components within them, carry records of all stages of Solar System history. There are also meteorites from the Moon and from Mars that give us insights to how these bodies have formed and evolved.
In her lecture, Monica will describe how the microscope is another tool that can be employed to trace stellar and planetary processes.