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Rocks & Sands In Search of Ancient Meteorites

Join Astronomy magazine Editor David J. Eicher, NASA Mars researcher Chris McKay, and MWT Associates, Inc., on a trip to explore the desert sands of Tunisia for meteorites, March 19-29, 2011.
Coliseum at El Jem interior
Coliseum at El Jem interior
Dennis Mammana
carthage_masks_5167
Carthlage masks
Dennis Mammana
carthage_plates_5221
Carthage plates
Dennis Mammana

On Saturday, March 19, David J. Eicher will travel to Tunisia to accompany more than 30 Astronomy readers on a Tunisian tour to see the Sahara Desert, the ruins of Carthage, and the famous area of Tataouine, where in 1931 an unusual meteorite fell. They'll be joined by Melita Thorpe of MWT Associates, the magazine's travel partner, and meteorite expert Chris McKay of NASA's Ames Research Center, who also happens to be a leading authority on possible microbial life on Mars, among other things. 

After they arrive in Tunis, the group will start its journey in Hammamet, checking out the seaside fortress, and move on to Sousse, where it'll see the Kasbah. From there, the group will explore the Roman theater at Sfax and then move south through the Sahara to Tataouine. 

On June 27, 1931, a significant meteorite fall occurred there and the stone exploded in an airburst, littering a field with small, fractured stones. The strewn field measures less than 1 square kilometer in area and lies mostly on a hillside composed of Jurassic limestone about 4 kilometers northeast of the village. Because Tatahouine, as meteorite collectors spell it, broke apart in the atmosphere, it is devoid of fusion crust. Moreover, the meteorite is a rare type called a diogenite and is characterized by an odd, olive-green color caused by large orthopyroxene crystals with inclusions of chromite and other impurities. The group search for meteorite specimens in the strewn field. 

From there, they will explore the city of Tataouine, nearby Berber villages, and troglodyte houses made famous from the shooting of various Star Wars movies in the region. The group will then cross the salt lake of Chott El Jerid and see salt crystal formations before visiting the city of Tozeur and the nearby oasis. They'll check out mountain scenery, desert villages, hidden springs, and green canyons before heading to the Roman pools and ruins at Gafsa and Sbeitla. Then the great Islamic city of Kairouan awaits, with several picturesque mosques. 

Returning to Tunis, the group next concentrate on the Bardo Museum, which houses the largest Roman mosaics in the world. The group will then tour the famous city of Carthage, where the Romans lay ruin to the great buildings in 146 B.C. Finally, before departing, they'll explore the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial in Carthage, which serves as the final resting place for 2,841 veterans of the North African campaigns in World War II.

Check out all of Editor David J. Eicher's blogs about the trip.

Tunisians celebrate freedom

Young Tunisians dance, bang on drums, and play a flute to celebrate their newfound freedom, Tunis, Mach 20, 2011. All photos by Editor David J. Eicher
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