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Meteoritics and Polar Studies Research

The current research focus at the Center is on presolar grains to understand our parent stars and the history of our Galaxy, and on the delivery history of extraterrestrial matter to Earth through the study of fossil meteorites and micrometeorites found in sediments, and terrestrial impact craters. We also study extraterrestrial samples returned to Earth by the NASA mission Stardust.

The Center is also engaged in graduate and undergraduate student education in collaboration with the University of Chicago, and in professional development for educators, high school student education, family and public outreach in collaboration with the Field Museum's Department of Education.

Since its beginnings in 1893 the Field Museum has a long-standing history in meteoritics. In 1933 the Meteoritical Society, the professional society for meteorite researchers, was founded at the Field Museum.

What are presolar grains and why do we study them?

Presolar grains are minerals that are older than anything else in our Solar System. They formed before the birth of our Solar System and a small fraction survived in primitive asteroids and comets. We extract presolar grains from fragments of these objects: unaltered meteorites, interplanetary dust particles and comet dust. We study the elemental and isotopic compositions of presolar grains to understand the presolar history of meteoritic matter. The interdisciplinary field of presolar grain research informally also called Astrophysics in the Laboratory is delivering a wealth of information on stars and our Galaxy that are not accessible through astronomical observations. One of our main motivations to study presolar grains, a surviving fraction of the source materials of our Solar System, is to improve our understanding of the history of our Galaxy.

The delivery of extraterrestrial matter to Earth
We are also interested in the history of the delivery of extraterrestrial matter to Earth. Therefore, we analyze the chemical compositions of meteorites and micrometeorites that were preserved in terrestrial sediments. On the other end of the size spectrum of extraterrestrial material that fell to Earth are asteroids and comets. These usually form impact craters and can cause local to global catastrophes for life. We study such impact craters to find and analyze impactor material. Such studies will help geoscientists understand how the extraterrestrial material affected the environment and life on Earth during various times in Earth’s history.

Chicago Center for Cosmochemistry
The Field Museum is part of the three-institution Chicago Center for Cosmochemistry (C^3) together with Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago. C^3 is dedicated to promoting education and research in cosmochemistry. The center holds a weekly seminar during academic quarters. C^3 aims to take advantage of the strength of the cosmochemistry community in Chicago. The Field Museum's world-class meteorite collection, a superb array of cutting-edge analytical facilities and state-of-the-art sample preparation laboratories at Argonne and the U of C are core elements of C^3. It also serves as a magnet to attract cosmochemists from around the world to Chicago.



This presolar silicon carbide grain is genuine stardust extracted from the meteorite Murchison and formed in the wind of an asymptotic branch giant star more than 4.6 billion years ago. Scanning electron microscope false-color image. © Philipp R. Heck  
 

Vial with meteoritic nanodiamonds from the meteorite Allende. The dark shaded area at the bottom of the vial is the cluster of nanodiamonds.  © The Field Museum, GEO86193_2c, Photographer: John Weinstein.



 

Polar Studies

The Robert A. Pritzker Center for Meteoritics and Polar Studies has a strong interest in studies in the polar regions. The Tawani Foundation, that provided the funding to establish the Center sponsored several expeditions to Antarctica. On one of the recent expeditions RAPC staff collaborated with scientists from the Geologicial Survey of India to plan an Indian meteorite search program in Antarctica. Read more about this expedition at expeditions.fieldmuseum.org.