Geologists from Bern University and from the Natural History Museum Bern have
found more than 180 meteorites in Oman in January/February 2001. The most
exciting find is a piece of Mars rock. This meteorite just received its name:
Sayh al Uhaymir 094. Contrary to other finds of Mars meteorites in deserts,
this meteorite is fully available to science. Detailed investigations are
currently under way at Bern University and at collaborating institutions.

Just 18 meteorites from Mars are known today. Some have been fragmented
during their fall. Sayh al Uhaymir 094 is a fragment of the 16 th known Mars
meteorite. The geologic past of Mars, including the fate of water, as well
as the search for evidence of possible past life on Mars are research areas
in which Mars meteorites play a key role. Meteorites from the red planet
are of extreme scientific value because they are the only solid material
available for about 10 years to come. If all goes well, about 500 g of Mars
samples will then be returned to Earth at very high costs by spacecraft.

Sayh al Uhaymir 094: a window into Mars’s past

SaU 094 is, besides the antarctic finds, the only Mars meteorite fully
available to science. Applying modern analytical tools at Bern University,
the mineralogical characterization was possible using tiny fragments. The
nature of the minerals as well as their chemical composition clearly
demonstrate that SaU 094 is a Mars meteorite. It is a piece of rock that
was formed from molten lava, similar to volcanic rocks on Earth. The
origin from Mars is supported by measurements of oxygen isotopes (Ian
Franchi, Open University, UK). Using X-ray tomography at EMPA, D¸bendorf
(Switzerland), the interior of the rock was investigated nondestructively.
An interesting result of this investigation is the occurrence of many
cavities up to several millimetres in size, probably an effect of intense
mechanical stress during ejection from Mars. For detailed analyses samples
will be cut from this stone. The majority of these analyses (mineralogy,
chemical composition, noble gases, age determination etc) will be conducted
at Bern University. The availability of SaU 094 provides a new focal point
for Swiss Mars science.

Why are so many meteorites found in Oman? Meteorite falls are very rare.
Only where the surface of the Earth remains undisturbed and dry for very
long times meteorites accumulate over thousands of years. Enrichments of
this type were first detected in Antarctica and since about 10 years deserts
are being searched for meteorites systematically. From the Sahara about
2000 meteorites are known already. The Sultanate of Oman has become known
as an important collection area for meteorites just in the past two years.
It is spectacular that in this short time six Lunar and two Martian
meteorites have been found in Oman. All meteorite searches so far have been
conducted without permission from the Omani authorities. The meteorite Sayh
al Uhaymir 094 was published in the Meteoritical Bulletin on may 23, 2001.
The official text from the Bulletin is given below:


Announcement 85-5, May 23, 2001

Jeffrey N. Grossman, Editor (

Jutta Zipfel, Co-editor for Saharan Meteorites (

Sayh al Uhaymir 094 20 deg 59.469 min N, 57 deg 20.326 min E


Found 2001 February 8

Martian meteorite (shergottite)

A 223.3 g partially crusted stone was found in the same area as Sayh al
Uhaymir 005, 008, and 051 by Marc Hauser and Lorenz Moser (Bern) during
a search for meteorites. All samples may be paired. Mineralogy and
classification (E. Gnos, Institute for Geological Sciences, Bern) and B.
Hofmann (NMB): the grey-greenish rock shows a gabbro-like texture and
contains phenocrysts of olivine (average maximum dimension = 1.5 mm)
displaying shock-twinning, mosaicism, and, locally, oxidation; optically
clear parts of olivines (Fo65-69) occur in a fine-grained (average maximum
grain size = 0.3 mm) groundmass consisting of maskelynite (An55-64Or5-9)
and pigeonite (En60-68Wo7-9) with minor augite, chromite and pyrrhotite;
partially recrystallized veins and pockets of shock-melted glass
containing vescicles are abundant; x-ray tomography revealed that the
specimen contains approximately 0.4 vol% of pores up to 3 mm in size;
shock stage, S5; weathering grade, W1; small rusty pockets are
Fe-hydroxide replacements of an unknown pre-existing phase. Specimens:
all in NMB.

Fascination Mars

The red planet exerts great fascination to humans since antiquity. What is
the justification, however, to investigate such a distant object in detail?
The history of planet Earth can only be understood in context with the
common origin with other planets and with the sun 4600 million years ago.
>From all the planets Mars is most earthlike. There is evidence indicating
that both planets developped in a similar way for the first 1000 million
years, a time during which life established itself on Earth. The recent
recognition of extreme environments of life on Earth, e.g. in submarine
springs at 110 C and in porous rocks several kilometers below the surface
demonstrates that Early Mars most likely offered environments prone for

18 Meteorites are the only objects from planet Mars currently available.
Every piece provides new insight into the origin and development of our
neighbour planet. Additionally, meteorites represent potential “spaceships”
for microbes. Detailed studies of all processes affecting meteorites
during their journey yields answers to the question of whether
interplanetary transfer of microbes is a likely process.

How are Mars meteorites delivered to Earth?

Fragments of planet Mars are naturally delivered to Earth. Impacts of large
meteorites on Mars produce craters. Rocks close to craters may be ejected
with high velocity. To escape the gravity field of Mars, a velocity of at
least 5 km per second (approx. 20,000 km/h) is necessary. Ejected rock
fragments may approach Earth after millions of years, enter the atmosphere,
and end up as a piece of rock in the desert. Research on Mars meteorites
(e.g. at the Institute of Physics of Bern University) demonstrates that
the transfer between Mars and Earth took between 0.7 and 20 million years
for different meteorites.

Mars research: International efforts

Since the announcement of possible traces of life in the antarctic Mars
meteorite ALH84001 in 1996 Mars research has boomed. Even though the
arguments presented in 1996 are hardly taken as solid evidence today, this
and consecutive studies have initiated a new era of Mars research pushing,
among other things, the foundation of the NASA Astrobiology Institute
(NAI). In Europe the European Astrobiology Network was founded in May 2001.

New Mars meteorites were found in increasing rates in the last years, and
several missions to Mars (some successful, others not) were undertaken.
One mission (Mars Odyssey 2001) is currently on the way to Mars. Three
missions will attempt to reach Mars in December 2003 and January 2004,
among them ESA’s Mars Express with the lander Beagle 2. NASA’s Mars
Global Surveyor is orbiting Mars since 1997 and is providing a wealth
of new data about the Martian surface.

Mars research in Switzerland

Different scientific institutions are busy with Mars research also in
Switzerland. Mars meteorites are being studied since many years in the
group of Prof. O. Eugster at Bern University. Here noble gas contents are
measured, allowing a determination of the time the meteorite was exposed
to the space environment, and with that, the ejection age from Mars. At
ETH Zurich rare isotopes are being determined in Mars meteorites. For the
Mars lander Beagle 2 the Swiss electronics/microtechnics company CSEM
in Neuch‚tel provides the cameras for panoramic, close-up and microscopic
imaging. In collaboration with CSEM test images of terrestrial materials
are being made at the Natural History Museum Bern. There will be a press
orientation about the involvement of CSEM in the Beagle 2 mission on June
15, 2001 at 16.00 in Neuch‚tel (see link in website).

The science team

Bern University conducts intensive research in the Sultanate of Oman since
more than 30 years and has made a significant contribution to the
development of this modern state. Besides geological mapping and
prospection for raw materials, research was mainly focused on subjects
like origin of the Oman Mountains, palaeoclimate and ground water
resources. Students from Oman are integrated in ongoing projects and
receive training at Bern University. Many of these projects were supported
by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Thanks to these longstanding
good relations with the Sultanate of Oman, the first official meteorite
search project could be realized in January/February 2001.

[NOTE: Full text of this media release is available as a PDF file (856KB) at

Images supporting this release are available at]


Dr. Beda Hofmann

Natural History Museum Bern, phone +41 31 350 72 40

Dr. Marc Hauser

Institute of Mineralogy and Petrology, University of Bern, phone +41 31 631 87 95 or +41 79 252 83 79

Dr. Edwin Gnos

Institute of Mineralogy and Petrology, University of Bern, phone +41 31 631

Prof. Dr. O. Eugster

Physikalisches Institut, Space Research & Planetary Sciences, University of