A thin-sectioned specimen of the Allende Meteorite, photographed by Jeff Barton using cross-polarized light, with a DSLR attached to a petrographic microscope.

The innards of a meteorite that fell in Brownfield, Texas, in 1964.

The Allende meteorites fell in 1969 at Pueblito de Allende, Mexico. These astral rocks contain interstellar dust particles thought to be the oldest unaltered particles in our solar system: 4.567 billion years old, that is.

Crystals in the meteorite sample catch the cross-polarized light, and their colors change when the light is rotated--an effect called birefringence.

A micrograph of a pair of chondrules (round granules embedded in astral stones) from the Allende meteorite. The colors represent the natural frequencies of the minerals that make up the crystals, which tells you what type of mineral you’re looking at. In this photo, the chondrule at left is barred olivine; the one on the right is porphyritic pyroxene and slightly shocked due to an impact.

Barton says the images, the insides of meteorites, resemble "natural stained glass."

Geologists and astronomers have studied thin sections of rocks from the outer cosmos for more than a century. The invention of photography sped up their research process, in addition to providing non-scientists with stunning space oddity images.

Barton explains his photo setup: "This is a sandwich of two polarizing filters with a thin section between them, sitting on a light table. Light is coming up from beneath (at you in this photo), passing through a polarizer, then through a paper-thin section of rock from a meteorite, then through the top polarizer and into the camera."

You don’t need a science degree or an astronomical salary to become a DIY geode photographer: "Thin sections of both meteorites and terrestrial rock samples are widely available on eBay," says Barton. "With two linear polarizing filters for camera lenses, you can reproduce the petrographic microscope technique simply by placing the slide between the filters and shining an ordinary flashlight through them. You can buy everything you need to do this for about $100."

Cracking open meteorites requires a rock saw with a diamond-coated blade. Scientists like Barton will grind a postage stamp-sized piece of the rock until it’s thin enough for light to pass through and then glue the slice to a microscope slide for its photo shoot.

Co.Design

Otherworldly Pics Of The Iridescent Universe Inside Meteorites

If the sky is falling and meteorites mean an end to all of us, at least let them look like this.

Meteorites—the chunks of debris from space that may have killed the dinosaurs and sometimes threaten humans, too—are usually lumpy, gray, and sinister-looking from the outside.

But when cracked open and photographed, they reveal a universe of iridescent mosaics in neons and golds. As astronomy photographer Jeff Barton describes them to Co.Design, meteor innards are "natural stained glass."

Barton, Director of Sciences at Three Rivers Foundation and a meteorite collector since 2004, took these stunning images of the Allende meteorites. Named for the Mexican pueblito in the state of Chihuahua where they fell in 1969, the astral rocks contain interstellar dust particles that are thought to be the oldest unaltered particles in our solar system: 4.567 billion years old, that is.

To get the images, Barton used polarizing filters and a petrographic microscope. Crystals in the meteorite sample catch the cross-polarized light, and their colors change when the light is rotated, an effect called birefringence.

Cracking open meteorites requires a rock saw with a diamond-coated blade. Scientists like Barton will grind a postage stamp-sized piece of the rock until it’s thin enough for light to pass through, and then glue the slice to a microscope slide for its photo shoot. Barton also creates shimmering animations of the meteorite insides by snapping a photograph every few degrees as he rotates the filters—essentially, stop-motion animation on a microscopic level.

Geologists and astronomers make these images for scientific rock-classifying purposes, not just because they’re pretty. As Barton explains, "The colors represent the natural frequencies of the minerals of which the crystals are made. By rotating the filters and photographing the results, you can determine the crystals’ angle of refraction." This tells you what type of mineral you’re looking at.

But yes, they sure are pretty. And Barton let slip his trade secrets for those curious about DIY astral rock photography: "Thin sections of meteorites are widely available on eBay, some for under $50," he says. "With two linear polarizing filters for camera lenses, you can reproduce the petrographic microscope technique simply by placing the slide between the filters and shining an ordinary flashlight through. You can buy everything you need to do this for about $100."

"The large meteorites in my Meteorite Petting Zoo have traveled hundreds of miles and been handled, even tasted, by thousands of curious students over the past decade," says Barton of his collection.

See his full set of 102 meteorite thin section photos here.

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