Digging into a space rock’s questionable history

June 28, 2019 | Science

Tatiana Kopchuk spent a semester getting to know an extraterrestrial cache tucked away in the basement of Building 5. Working with Dr. Erin Walton and Dr. Robert Hilts, the Bachelor of Science student’s independent study dug into the history of several specimens in the university’s meteorite collection.

Using what she learned in her mineralogy, petrology and planetary materials classes, Tatiana organized and catalogued essential information on each space rock, selecting one mystery meteorite – NWA X (named for where it was found, NW for northwest and A for Africa) – to study further.

“The only thing we knew about it was that it was found in northwest Africa and that it was believed to be lunar in origin,” says Tatiana. “My job was to use the skills I had learned to give the meteorite a backstory.”

Title of work: Catalogue and Analysis of MacEwan University's Meteorite Collection

About the research

Using the university’s petrographic microscope, scanning electron microscope and Raman spectrometer, Tatiana set out to see what NWA X’s crystal structure, chemical composition and texture could tell her about the meteorite’s history and where on the moon it might have come from.

She documented the composition of the tiny meteorite (weighing in at three grams), its shock history (pressures, temperatures and deformation caused by other meteorites hitting the moon’s surface near NWA X), and the significant weathering that resulted from its lengthy time on our planet.

“It was a lot of work and there were many little things to look at, but this research really solidified everything I’ve learned,” says Tatiana. “Simply knowing what pyroxene looks like is a lot different than actually trying to find it in a rock.”

What's next?

This summer, Tatiana is working with her faculty supervisor Erin once again (this time as a research assistant) to confirm and expand on another student’s findings with a lunar meteorite called NWA 032, which is believed to be the youngest meteorite of its type (a Mare basalt) ever to have been found on Earth.


Share your work

There are many ways to share – and celebrate – work you’re proud of, including MacEwan’s Student Research Day (where Tatiana presented her research) and a range of on-campus student conferences and forums. 

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