A Glasgow scientist may have solved the mystery of who discovered an original Martian meteorite after discovering it contained a toxin that made pigs vomit.
The Lafayette meteorite has been stored in the geological collection at Purdue University in Indiana since early 1929, however, no one knows how the rock ended up there, the BBC reports.
Some reports indicated that the meteorite was delivered to the university by an African American student after it landed in a pond where he was fishing.
Dr Aine O’Brien, an organic geochemist and environmental planetary scientist at the University of Glasgow, began studying a small piece of the meteorite two years ago.
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“It’s a meteorite from Mars and that’s really rare,” O’Brien told the BBC.
“That alone makes it really precious and not all of those meteorites coming from Mars are in a primitive state like Lafayette.”
“It must have been picked up shortly after it fell because otherwise the outer edge would have faded.”
O’Brien analyzed the chemical compounds that make up the meteorite, and discovered that one of them — a vomit poison called dioxyphenalenol — was found in a fungus that can grow on crops and sicken humans and pigs, according to one of the researchers. Created by the world.
Pigs are particularly affected by the poison that causes vomiting.
She then reached out to researchers and librarians at Purdue University to investigate how the fungus affected crops in Indiana. It was found to cause low crop yields in 1919 and 1927, around the same time the Lafayette meteorite was said to have been discovered, according to the University of Glasgow.
The researchers hypothesized that dust from crops may have carried the toxin into waterways. If that was the case, the meteorite would have been contaminated with poison when it fell into the pond.
They also searched historical records of fireball sightings, and found that some of them occurred in both 1919 and 1927. Meteorites leave a streak of fire across the sky as they enter Earth’s atmosphere due to their extreme heat.
The University of Glasgow reports that archivists at Purdue University then searched the records to find black students who attended the university in 1919 and 1927. Julius Lee Morgan, Clinton Edward Shaw and Hermansey Edwin Fontleroy were all studying at the university in 1919, and there was another student Clyde Silence, in 1927.
Based on evidence collected by O’Brien and the team, any of these students would have discovered the Lafayette meteorite.
“Lafayette is a really beautiful meteorite that has taught us a lot about Mars through previous research,” O’Brien told the BBC.
“So for that alone, they deserve credit, right? And then you add the fact that they were African American students at a university that had very few. We all know the stories of racism in America in the 1920s.”
While O’Brien may not be able to say exactly who found the Martian meteorite, she told the BBC she was happy to shed some light on the story.
“The only reason we’ve been able to narrow it down is because the university has a small number of black students and this is Black History Month,” she said.
“And that’s kind of a black history, I didn’t want to get carried away with the fact that that’s such a big part of the story.”
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