UT Receives Rights to Space Rocks in Pact with Oman

KNOXVILLE — A University of Tennessee geologist has negotiated a pact that will give university researchers unprecedented access to meteorites gathered from the deserts of Oman.

Dr. Larry Taylor, UT Distinguished Professor and director of UT’s Planetary Geosciences Institute, led negotiations with the Sultanate of Oman to win the right to study rocks from the moon and Mars that were found in the country’s arid deserts.

Concerned about losing these valuable stones to smugglers, the government of Oman recently put a stop to meteorite collection and export.

Taylor and his colleagues will conduct research on a small percentage of the lunar and Martian meteorites in the government’s possession.

Oman will place the entire collection of rocks in a museum, along with a presentation of the scientific findings of the research.

The rare rocks date back to the formation of the moon some 4.56 billion years ago. The impact event that blasted these rocks into orbit was probably only 100,000 years ago, Taylor said.

“If you look at the six Apollo missions and three Soviet missions that went to the moon and collected samples, we only have material from about 10 percent of the lunar surface,” Taylor said.

“Chances are that the rocks from Oman are from the other 90 percent we have never sampled. In fact, we feel a small number of them may come from the far side of the moon, which makes these new samples even more valuable,” he said.