Astronomy sheds brilliant light on the solar system and our place in the universe. Much of our understanding of outer space comes from a different discipline, geology.
Particles from the solar wind were returned safely to Earth by NASA’s Genesis mission in 2004. Owing to the Apollo and Luna missions we have rock from the moon. We also have rocks from Mars which were blasted into space by asteroid impacts on the surface of these bodies. They fell to Earth as meteorites. Thanks to the Stardust mission, we have rocks from comets, and the asteroid belt.
Soon, we could have access to rocks from asteroid Bennu, now that NASA’s sample-return mission OSIRIS-Rex has made a successful touchdown.
Meteorites give us a microscopic insight into the proto planetary disk from which our solar system formed, because many still preserve these primordial motes of rocky dust which are pieces of the disk.
Amongst the first to discover this was English geologist Henry Clifton Sorby, who, in a lecture in 1877, said that “meteorites are the residual cosmical matter, not collected into planets.”
Sorby’s greate insight transformed our view of meteorites and the solar system forever.