Capturing the mosaic of minerals in meteorites

by The Insights

When Neil Buckland, a Seattle-based artist, met a geologist by the name of Tony Irving a few years ago, he had no idea that would kick off an extraterrestrial collaboration. Buckland was at the University of Washington photographing ultrathin slices of meteorite for a project Irving was working on. The cut space rocks didn’t seem particularly exciting at first. Next, Buckland scanned the 30-micron-thick samples through a pair of polarizing filters. He was stunned by the vibrant collage of hues.

Inspired by the photographic possibilities, Buckland returned to his studio and set to work designing a camera system built around a microscope lens attached to a Pentax DSLR. To create his images, he captures a 2 millimeter square section of a sample at up to 40,000X magnification, then moves the camera slightly and takes another square. After capturing 300 to 400, it stitches them all together into a photo that can be displayed up to 12 feet wide. “It’s like a cosmos in a pebble,” Buckland says. “Artistically, I try to show the images as big as I am and as detailed as they are to create this existential shift in perspective.”

Polarized light can reveal different minerals in samples. If a meteorite is rich in olivine, like the one at the top of this article, the light brings out greens, oranges and blues. For scientists, the pattern of minerals can hold clues to a meteorite’s origins, such as whether it came from an asteroid collision a billion years ago or was ejected from a massive impact on Earth. another world with a particular mixture of atmospheric gases. They’re also great to watch if you just want to get away.

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