Science for Kids

Science for Kids Exclusive:
"The Moon Rock Man," Dr. Edwin Gnos
Q & A: Also available in French and German

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What Would Kids Ask?

Hunter Kaye and Caroline Stahley are two 9-year-old friends from Falls Church, Virginia, USA. Recently, they telephoned Switzerland to ask Dr. Edwin Gnos of Bern University about a rock that fell from the moon to the Earth. Dr. Gnos and two others found the moon rock, "Sayh al Uhaymir 169," in Oman, on the Arabian Peninsula, east of Africa. Their research was accepted by the journal, Science, published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society. The rock is part of a "Ping Pong in Space" exhibit at the Natural History Museum in Bern, Switzerland.

Here's what Dr. Gnos told Hunter, Caroline and a moderator from AAAS.

Q - MODERATOR: What do children around the world need to know about the moon rock you studied?

A - DR. GNOS: What we found is a lunar meteorite, or moon rock. This is only one of about 30 meteorites from the moon that have been found on Earth. This meteorite is very special because it is the first time that we can say exactly where on the moon it came from. Do you know how some people think they can see a man in the moon? This moon rock would have been on the right eye of the man in the moon, before it fell to Earth.

Q - HUNTER: How did you figure out where on the moon it came from?

A - DR. GNOS: This is a long story! It took us more than a year of studying it. We had some information on the chemistry of the moon's surface, and we matched that information with the chemistry of the rock. Some of the chemical and age "fingerprints" from the rock were the same as fingerprints from the Lalande Impact Crater on the moon.

Q - CAROLINE: What made the rock fall from the moon to the Earth?

A - DR. GNOS: On the Earth, if you jump, you fall back down because of gravity. But, imagine that you could jump very, very high, and so fast that the Earth's gravity would not hold you anymore. Something hit this rock so hard that it flew off the moon at a very high speed, 340,000 years ago. Now, this rock was hit four times. We don't know what hit the rock. We think it was hit by meteorites because there are many potential meteorites, for example, between Mars and Jupiter. The first time something hit it, this rock was bumped to a new place on the surface of the moon, but it didn't fly into space. Later on, it was hit again, and it bounced up, then fell back down to another spot on the moon. Finally, the fourth time, it zoomed off into space, toward Earth.

Q - HUNTER: Just like a rocket ship! How many meteorites fall to Earth?

A - DR. GNOS: There are about 200 meteorites, altogether, that fall on the USA each year. If you compare that with Switzerland, about two meteorites fall here each year. We have fewer meteorites because Switzerland is much smaller than the USA. Meteorites fall in a fairly random pattern, so they are no more likely to hit Oman than Kansas. But, if you have lots of rain, meteorites decay. In dry places, they stay around longer. It would be very hard to find a meteorite near the beach because the water would decay it.

Q - CAROLINE: Was it complicated for you to analyze the rock, or was it easy?

A - DR. GNOS: It was very easy to find out that this rock was a real moon rock. But, then it was very hard to find out exactly where it came from. So, it was easy at first, but then it got very, very hard, and the research team had to stick with it.

Q - HUNTER: Who found the rock?

A - DR. GNOS: There were three of us who found the rock--Ali Al-Kathiri, who was a doctoral student at Bern University, Beda A. Homann of the Natural History Museum in Bern, and me. We first saw the rock from the car window, and we went off and had a look at it. It looked different to us. We were not really sure, at first, whether it was a meteorite or not.

Q - CAROLINE: Why did you name the rock "Sayh al Uhaymir 169?"

A - DR. GNOS: Meteorites usually are named after the nearest post office. But, there is no post office in the desert in Oman, where we found this rock. So, an international science committee named it after the desert area. I asked a guy in Oman what the name meant. He said, "Sayh"means "very flat plain," and "Al Uhaymir" means "slightly reddish." This meteorite was found on a slightly reddish plain. It was the 169th meteorite found in this area.

Q - MODERATOR: Did you grow up in Bern, Switzerland, where you now work?

A - DR. GNOS: No, I grew up in the central part of Switzerland, in the mountains. I was always interested in space science and geology, and my father's profession was searching for crystals in the mountains. I earned my doctoral degree at Bern University, studying the ocean floor. I completed post-doctoral studies in France, spent three years at Stanford University, in California, then one more year on a project in Tibet, China and Pakistan. By chance, I came back to Bern to work. I've bounced around, just like the moon rock!

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This research appears in the 30 July 2004 issue of Science. Science is published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society. Look for Science for Kids features on the EurekAlert! Web site. Swiss-language information on the museum exhibit is online at http://www.nmbe.ch/deutsch/frameset_210_1.html.

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Reporters - For more information, call the AAAS Office of Public Programs, (202) 326-6440, scipak@aaas.org.

 

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Science is published by AAAS, the non-profit science society.

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Dr. Edwin Gnos of Bern University

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Caroline Stahley, 9 years old

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Hunter Kaye, 9 years old

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A rock slice of Sayh al Uhaymir 169.

[Image © Science]

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Meteorite Sayh al Uhaymir 169 in the spot where it was found.

[Image © Science]

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Sayh al Uhaymir 169 was found in a rocky desert plain, like this one, in Oman.

[Image © Science]

 

 

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