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Atlas of Meteorites (2015): A Book for All and None

Last Updated: 7th Nov 2016

By Lon Clay Hill

The Atlas of Meteorites (2015): A book for all and none
A very appreciative, but critical review

Lon Clay Hill

Monica M. Grady, Giovanni Pratesi & Vanni Moggi-Cecchi. (2015) Atlas of Meteorites. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom. 373 pages.


The Atlas of Meteorites (2015)

The Atlas of Meteorites (2015) is a somewhat uneven compendium of overview, information, references, and photographs related to the current concerns in meteoritic research. I say 'uneven' because the book was organized, compiled and written over several years during which time the whole notion of a printed book and its relationship to contemporary research has been undergoing a revolutionary transformation. Utilization of the World Wide Web now allows the immediate transmission of enormous amounts of data critical for contemporary research. Indeed, during a brief conversation during the 79th Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society, the lead author indicated that if she were to begin anew the book would be entirely on line. However, I personally would not dwell on such issues too much. The book does an excellent job of bringing together in one place the major strands of contemporary research into a single 373 page book — an unusually difficult job when one compares this truly comprehensive effort with other work, even excellent work, which has been produced over the past two decades. It also has something for everybody — from the meteoritic researcher and the geochemical scientist to the college teacher, the mineralogical amateur, and meteorite hunter. However, it will be helpful here to parse a little more carefully what the book does and does not do for the various readership registers. This provides a natural introduction to some primary mineralogical interests of this reviewer.

The book contains 17 chapters — a 20 page introduction and 16 subsequent chapters on different meteorite groups or clans. The book's primary organizing principle is its reflection of the current meteoritical and planetary science consensus that meteorites are among our primary sources for encoded Solar System history. Indeed, at the present time, most meteoriticists are inclined to believe that meteorites are the primary datable sources for early Solar System history [4.0—4.68 Ga BP]. Thus, chapter 2 begins by discussing the carbonaceous chondrites believed to be ancient relics of very small, relatively unaltered worlds of the early Solar System. The book then continues by discussing the various groups more or less according to the size and formational complexity of their putative parent worlds. The book ends with two chapters (Chs. 16,17) on lunar and martian meteorites — fragments from the once active moon and the still mildly active crust of Mars. Each chapter provides a general overview (classification, geochemistry, chronology, mineralogy) and is accompanied by an extensive technical bibliography. In addition, each of the last 16 chapters ends with a set of pages on individual meteorites belonging to the chapter's treated group. A total of 216 meteorites were selected for individual treatment (representing nearly 60% of the primary text!) and provide a reasonably full panoply of the 16 clans and groups. As a practical matter and consequence of the three authors' own experiences [both as curators and classifiers], implicit deference to England's Museum of Natural History collection is evident. Significantly large specimens and, even, the main mass of many highlighted meteorites are currently held by the London museum.

It is useful to differentiate between the introductory chapter or introductory sections and the 16 attached complementary sections of individual meteorites. The introductions provide brief, but otherwise superb technical reviews of the various classes and groups as currently understood by the meteoritic community. Particularly helpful are the accompanying figures which provide quick visual reviews of topics which can be pursued by the reader as he/she wills. However, the accompanying 216 individual meteorite descriptions are an entirely different matter. Once we get past the initial classificatory assignments, we find that these description are accompanied by an implicit host of petrographic and mineralogical detail which are not so readily cast into standard and convenient generalization. Indeed, as I hope to demonstrate in a subsequent essay, if we follow the detailed mineralogical descriptions in more detail we might find that some common operational theses of meteoritic research are incompletely substantiated at the present time. Here, however, we will elaborate on the contrasting features of the book before a brief treatment of some related matters of specifically mineralogical interest.

The several pages which introduce the 16 groups and clans of the last 16 chapters are quite impressive. The geochemical parameters, crystallization ages, and collisional history are accompanied by selected graphs and tables which reflect a very respectable (if sometimes mildly conservative) version of the current consensual concerns of the meteoritical community. The bibliographical references are quite helpful and on point. There is, however, one important problem for the user who is not attached to either a large library or research institution. The abbreviated citation format (sans author & articlename) is usually incomplete when one must rely on interlibrary loans. And, I might add, as underlying (and sometimes unsettled) scientific issues are not always explicitly addressed in citations and abstracts, it is an important scientific objective to understand that the personal thematics of individual authors is part of the scientific process. Still, it seems to me that the overviews and bibliographies are excellently tailored for the researcher, scientist, or graduate student who is not already involved in the specifics of the featured groups.

However, it also strikes me that the 216 one page individual meteorite profiles target a different scientific register. The over 600 photographs are an excellent visual introduction for the professor, graduate student or serious amateur who does not have immediate access to tens or hundreds of prepared meteorite specimens, thin sections, and/or a photomicrograph library. The only truly comparable books that the author knows are the Color Atlas of Meteorites in Thin Section (Lauretta & Kilgore, 2005) and the older black and white The Opaque Minerals in Stony Meteorites (Ramdohr, 1973). One can, of course, find various treasure troves of meteoritic textures and minerals at various Web Sites, in occasional articles, and in old books. However, the Atlas of Meteorites (2015) is simply superior in petrographic range and currency to most — if not all — of these various efforts. For completeness, I should probably add that the excellent Cambridge Encyclopedia of Meteorites (Norton, 2005) provides a more even, moderately technical and well-illustrated profile of meteorites and their classification with pertinent mineralogical detail. However, the Encyclopedia does not lead as easily into the raw data and actual conundrums of meteorite mineralogy. The carbonaceous chondrites, ordinary chondrites, and HED meteorites [mostly fragments of Vesta] are given particularly thorough treatment. Each of the highlighted meteorites is described in (usually) 1-3 short paragraphs accompanied by 3 photographs in plane-polarized transmitted light, cross-polarized transmitted light, and plane-polarized reflected light. Most photographs have a field of view of a few millimeters, but occasional photographs with a field of view of a few centimeters are displayed. Information about discovery phenomena (falls and finds) is usually quite sparse. Mineralogical comments (often with references to the displayed photographs) range from a few references [prominent silicates, presence of Fe-Ni metal &/or troilite, obvious shock features] to considerably more detailed commentary. In some cases, it is quite clear why a particular meteorite was selected for special consideration. Thus, for example, several highly shocked ordinary chondrites with unusual mineral assemblages have been added (Peace River, Taiban, Tenham). In other cases, only a thorough search of the literature reveals the special significance of the meteorite. In a few cases, this writer still remains in the dark. Accordingly, we discuss the problematics of obtaining more complete mineralogical summaries as experienced by the reviewer.

There is a serious problem for those who do not have immediate access to the panoply of subscription journals, subsidized search engines, and expert librarians accessible to the professional researcher. Bibliographies are not provided for the Atlas's 216 highlighted individual meteorites. If one attempts to utilize the Meteoritical Bulletin Database, a logical first step in seeking detailed petrographic and mineralogical information about a specific meteorite one usually discovers two or three immediate links. Meteorites discovered or recognized in the past few decades have been announced in The Meteoritical Bulletin along with brief descriptions of fall phenomena, characterizing geochemical markers, and mineralogical descriptions of varying detail. There are also immediate links to the NASA Astrophysical Data System (NASA ADS) and to Google Scholar. My own preference is to start with NASA ADS links. Often it provides immediate links to articles in the past 3 or 4 decades in the meteoritical standard bearers (Meteoritics & Planetary Science, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Lunar and Planetary Science Conference …). It is, however, at other times almost entirely worthless. God help the user who wants to find information about a meteorite which has the same name as the last name of one or more important contemporary researchers. NASA ADS also is usually sparse or even void for comprehensive articles published more than a half-century ago. Google Scholar is equally enigmatic. Google Scholar may likewise provide immediate links to relevant articles about the chosen meteorite — or it may provide nothing. There are, of course, tricks to teasing out information from the World Wide Web. My main point here is that getting a relatively complete mineralogical inventory of a individual meteorite is not a trivial exercise. If primary information about a meteorite has been published in Polish, Chinese, or Russian — sans extra efforts from a knowledgeable communicator fluent in the language — the information may be effectively hidden from the worldwide scientific public.

All of this brings us to this reviewer's present point. One place where relatively complete mineralogical profiles for many of the meteorites highlited in the Atlas of Meteorites is ('MinDat'}. This is especially true for meteorite falls and for meteorite prototypes.

Mineralogical Profiles — Present and Future

A personal note. Over the past 3 years, this reviewer has been involved in an effort to compile reasonably complete mineralogical profiles of scientifically important meteorites and to post them on the internet at MinDat. These efforts have concentrated primarily on various meteorite falls which had not been previously listed at Mindat. In addition, supplements to mineralogical profiles for other important meteorites have also been provided. Consequently, at the current time reasonably complete mineralogical profiles for almost all falls in several groups (e.g., aubrites, carbonaceous chondrites, enstatite chondrites, and HED achondrites) are now posted at Mindat. These posting may provided a welcome supplement to the individual meteorite descriptions found in the Atlas of Meteorites. We can also add that mineralogical inventories for all 84 individual ordinary chondrites (both falls and finds) highlighted in the Atlas of Meteorites can now be found at Mindat. While many of the mineralogical profiles posted at Mindat are relatively complete, we should also add that — with important exceptions — posted inventories for many meteorites with primary references exclusively in non=English languages are seriously incomplete.


Monica Mary Grady (2000). Catalogue of Meteorites (5/e). Cambridge University Press: Cambridge; New York; Oakleigh; Madrid; Cape Town. 689 pages.
Monica M. Grady, Giovanni Pratesi & Vanni Moggi-Cecchi. (2015) Atlas of Meteorites. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom. 373 pages.
Dante S. Lauretta & Marvin Killgore (2005). A Color Atlas of Meteorites in Thin Section. Southwest Meteorite Press: Payson, AZ, USA. 301 pages.
O. Richard Norton (2002). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Meteorites. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. 354 pages.
Paul Ramdohr (1973) The Opaque Minerals in Stony Meteorites. Elsevier Publishing Company: Amsterdam; London: New York. 245 pages.

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