Morocco is one of the best places in the world to search for meteorites, especially in the south, because it has a large and safe desert whose location is facilitated by the region’s Bedouins and “meteorite hunters” who live off this trade. .
Bring order to chaos
About 14,000 asteroid remains have been found in Morocco and 25 historically documented waterfalls, but most of these space rocks were exported and sold to private collectors, and some are not well documented scientifically due to the lack of their own legislation.
Al-Shinnawi (57 years old) voluntarily took on the difficult task of ending the chaos in this field more than two decades ago, introducing the system of meteorite studies for the first time in the country, and was able to obtain a decree approved in February 2021 that includes an article regulating the collection, sale and export of these meteorites.
This geologist with a passion for science is the only Arab and African woman to be part of the naming committee of the Meteorological Society, the international reference organization in the field.
Together with his team of researchers at Hassan II University in Casablanca, he has been able to document and record a series of space rocks over the past two decades according to a rigorous scientific process.
“We have achieved scientific credibility in Morocco in front of laboratories around the world, which leaves the doors open for us to conduct our analyzes and welcome our students,” El-Shennawy said in an interview with Effie.
A piece of expensive moon sales
Most of the finds in Morocco are ordinary chondrites from the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and although they do not have much commercial value, they are of great interest to scientists.
“Every meteorite is rich and important to scientists because it documents things we can’t access. Chondrites give us data about the composition of the solar system and planets, and carbonaceous chondrites, for example, provide information about the origin of water and life on Earth.”
But rare meteorites are also found or are falling in the country. Those from Mars and the Moon are among the most expensive because they are among the rarest in the world, and they arouse the greatest curiosity and interest.
Last February, a portion of the moon discovered in Morocco in 2007 was sold for $189,000 (171,000 euros) at Christie’s.
And the scientist adds: “Getting a piece of the moon or Mars makes everyone dream.”
One of the main meteorites found in Morocco was the Tissint meteorite that hit Earth in July 2011 in the Sahara, the fifth Martian meteorite seen at the time of its entry into Earth (the previous meteorite was observed 50 years ago). A new mineral has been discovered in this stone.
“Tissint is invaluable because we were able to work on a new material unpolluted by atmospheric factors,” El-Shinawy says, adding that this meteorite was expelled from Mars 700,000 years ago.
A small piece of this Martian meteorite is currently on display in a traveling museum exhibition in Casablanca, organized by the Atarik Foundation (Joint Working Group for the Advancement of Innovation and Research Knowledge) headed by the Moroccan scientist.
From the exhibition space entitled “Meteors of Messengers from the Sky”, El-Shennawy confirms that these space stones are of great interest to the public, given the number of 10,000 visitors it has received since its opening last July and the continuous demand for visits.
“One of my dreams is to have a research and exhibition center for planetary science and geology in the country,” El-Shennawy says, as she looks at her team explaining the solar system to a group of children. “Everyone should be interested in science, especially children.” who attended the exhibition on a school visit.