What's in a name?
Meteorites are named after the place where they are found, and every meteorite has its own, distinctive name. This is to avoid confusion in common usage, as well as in scientific publications.
The Nomenclature Committee (NomCom) of The Meteoritical Society is in charge of naming meteorites, and setting up and maintaining guidelines for how meteorites are classified and named. The guidelines give information on what happens when more than one meteorite is found in the same area, for example. The NomCom also reports on new meteorites in the Meteoritical Bulletin and in the Meteoritical Bulletin Database. More information on meteorite names can be found on The Meteoritical Society's meteorite names page.
Why is it important for meteorites to have official names?
The main reason is to avoid confusion. For instance, if someone is writing an article about the Edmonton meteorite, they need to make it clear whether it is Edmonton (Canada) or Edmonton (Kentucky).*
*This is an example of naming of meteorites that was done before the Meteoritical Society rules came into place.
Another, very important reason is for science. Naming a meteorite involves gathering enough information, for example through analysis of the meteorite's composition, to classify it relative to known meteorites from around the world. Since most meteorites originally come from asteroids, classification allows scientists to infer whether a group of meteorites (for example, the IIAB iron meteorites) are from the same "parent" asteroid.
Also, the NomCom Guidelines require that a type specimen be deposited into an official Type Specimen Repository. The reason for this is so there is a piece of the meteorite indefinitely curated in a collection and made available for scientific research. The type specimen has to be at least 20 grams or 20% of the mass of the meteorite, whichever is less (according to the guidelines).
How do meteorites get officially named?
There are a number of steps involved in getting an official name for a meteorite. The process here at the University of Alberta is as follows:
- A suspected meteorite is identified (see How to Identify a Meteorite).
- The owner of the meteorite sends a sample that meets the requirement for a type specimen and agrees to the fees involved (see Meteorite Services).
- The owner of the meteorite provides information on when and where the meteorite was found (or purchased) and the total mass of the meteorite, as well as any photos showing the main mass.
- Scientists remove a piece (or pieces) from the type specimen and arrange to prepare and analyze it. The type of analysis required depends on the type of meteorite (see Meteorite Services).
- The meteorite is analyzed. The results from analysis are reviewed and compiled (along with the information on how the meteorite was discovered) into a table, which is then submitted to the NomCom along with a proposed name.
- The information provided is converted into a write-up, which the NomCom reviews.
- If everything is in order, the NomCom approves the name, and the meteorite and its write-up are uploaded into the Meteoritical Bulletin Database and later published in the Meteoritical Bulletin.
- Finally, the owner is invoiced for services rendered.
The process typically takes between three and nine months, depending on the type of analysis, the availability of facilities, and how busy the NomCom is with new meteorite submissions.
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