CMMS Fall Social Outing 2019

Meteorites: From Microscopes to Telescopes!

On Friday, 18 October 2019, CMMS had our Fall Social event at the Maryland Space Grant Consortium (MDSGC) at Johns Hopkins University. The evening began with delicious pizza from Joe Squared, and was followed up by CMMS Treasurer Emma Bullock giving a talk about meteorites – what they are, how we recognize them, some of the methods we can use to study them (focusing on optical and scanning electron microscopes – this is a Microscopy event after all!), and what they can tell us about our solar system.

CMMS Treasurer Emma Bullock brought along some real meteorites to the Fall Social. Here she is demonstrating an imaginary meteorite crashing through the atmosphere.

Following the talk, a series of hands‐on demonstrations gave everyone a chance to be a scientist for the night. Liz Carter demonstrated a Hitachi tabletop scanning electron microscope (generously provided by CMMS sponsor Angstrom Scientific) that was used to look at everything from butterflies to seeds, while CMMS President Ru‐ching brought along a USB microscope that allowed everyone to get up close to some fantastic insects. Emma had brought some real meteorites that people could hold – including a piece of an asteroid core (a rock made of metal!), a piece of the solar system that is 4.567 billion years old (older than planet earth!) and a meteorite that is a mix of metal and rocky material (one of the most beautiful types of rock). Our hosts at MDSGC also laid on demonstrations, including a mirascope (which uses mirrors to make it look as though an object in a box is floating above the box), and a series of “discharge tubes” containing different gases – when a current is passed through the gas, different spectral lines can be viewed through a diffraction grating. Different gases have different emission spectra –astronomers use this technique to look at distant stars and determine the elements of which they are made.

Close‐up of one of the meteorites. This is a piece of an iron meteorite that fell in the Sikhote‐Alin mountains in Russia in 1947. It is a piece of an asteroid core, and was chosen “the most fun meteorite to hold” by attendees of the CMMS Fall Social, owing to its smooth surface.

One of the highlights of the evening was the opportunity to use the MDSGC telescope to observe other planets. We were incredibly lucky to have a beautiful clear night, and so were able to see Jupiter (plus three of its moons) and Saturn (and its large moon Titan).

Attendees got the chance to use the Maryland Space Grant Observatory 20” telescope to look at Saturn and its large moon Titan.
This image of a butterfly antenna was one of many awesome images taken by our attendees at the CMMS Fall Social. The instrument used was a Hitachi tabletop SEM, kindly supplied by Angstrom Scientific and operated by Liz Carter. For more information about Angstrom Scientific and their products, check out their website at
Passing a current through a tube filled with gas, then looking through a polarizing lens at the spectrum of the emitted light, can tell you about the composition of the gas. It is a technique used by astronomers to look at the composition of distant stars.

The event had a fantastic turnout – over 50 people came out to celebrate microscopes and telescopes with us, including about 15 children, many of whom are now keen to become astronauts and engineers. We hope you can join us for our next event.

– Emma Bullock, CMMS Treasurer

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