Carleton Moore serves as ASU’s meteorite studies founding father

As the founding director of the Center for Meteorite Studies on the Tempe campus, Carleton Moore never met a rock he didn’t like.

“Who wants to go to lunch when you could be studying meteorites?” he said.

Moore founded the Center for Meteorite Studies in 1961 with the Harvey H. Nininger collection, which housed approximately 700 meteorites.

The Center now holds almost 1,700 different meteorites, including many from Mars and Earth’s moon.

ASU holds the largest meteorite collection on a university campus.

“(It is) one of the biggest meteorite collections (in the world), and it’s the result of Carleton Moore,” said Susan Nowak, the business manager for the Center for Meteorite Studies.

Moore said one of the most exciting times in his life was in 1967, when NASA asked him to be one of the first people to analyze the rocks brought back by the Apollo 11 astronauts from the Moon.

“I would teach on the weekdays, and they would fly me out to Texas on the weekends,” he said.

His interest for earth rocks started in sixth grade, but it wasn’t until George A. Boyd, an advisor to former ASU President Henry Grady Gammage, asked him to come to ASU to study meteorites that he became completely involved in space rocks.

“The important thing is not to accumulate meteorites, but to do the research,” Moore said.

He said one of the Center’s biggest breakthroughs was in 1970, when they were the first group to discover extraterrestrial organic amino acids, which are typically found in humans and animals, in the Murchison meteorite.

“We were the first people to prove there are organic compounds in meteorites that make up you and me,” Moore said.

Laurence Garvie, the collection manager at the Center, said Moore was the first one to study the basic fundamentals of chemicals in meteorites.

Garvie said he has worked with Moore for five years and is delightful to be around.

Every Tuesday Moore and Garvie would meet to talk about what is new in the meteorite community.

“What’s so amazing about him is if you mention a meteorite, he will talk for hours,” Garvie said.

The difference between Moore and other collectors is that Moore is always interested in keeping the meteorites preserved, Garvie said.

“We have a very good historic collection because of Moore,” he said.

The oldest meteorite and one of Moore’s favorite meteorites is called “Ensisheim,” which was found in France in 1492, is on display at the Center.

Nowak, who has worked with Moore for 10 years, said he is very well known in the meteorite community.

Nowak said she recalls the time she went with him to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, where he was completely surrounded by people.

“He was literally a rock star,” Nowak said. “It felt like it was the paparazzi.”

She said Moore is primarily the source of information on the moon rocks from the Apollo mission.

“He was instrumental to putting ASU on the map for meteoritics,” Nowak said.

The Center, which displays its 50-year history, is open to the public and is located in Wing C at the George M. Bateman Physical Sciences.

Reach the reporter at thaniab@asu.edu

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