Covert H5 Ordinary Chondrite Meteorite

historic find on the Great Plains

[394 kb]

Above: polished face on a beautiful slice of the Covert chondrite. This find was important in the early career of famed meteorite hunter Harvey Nininger. The 104 x 83 x 4 mm slice weighs 111.40 grams. Note the abundance of shiny metal (kamacite) grains and the size of the prominent tawny sulphide (troilite) grains. Given its metal-rich nature, the measured bulk magnetic susceptibility was rather less than expected, at 240x10-3 SI units (still very magnetic, but less than some H chondrites). This result is considered a good estimate for log(χ)=5.38. Immediate provenance: Aerolite Meteorites.

"Rock of the Month #135, posted for September 2012" ---

The Great Plains of the U.S.A., including the state of Kansas, feature vistas of endless grain fields stretching north into the prairie provinces of Canada. Vast expanses of arable land, tilled by farming families with great local knowledge on a field-by-field, even rock-by-rock scale. Surely a perfect place for a meteorite to land, and be discovered!

Covert is an historic meteorite find in large part because of its effect on the burgeoning career of meteorite hunter and public educator Harvey H. Nininger (1887-1986).

The Covert chondrite was first noted on or before 1896. Years passed before the rusty stone was recognized for what it was, and authenticated as a meteorite in 1929. Nine more stones were found in the following two years, all weathered, for a TKW (total known weight) of about 61 kilograms. It is now classified as an H5 chondrite with Fa18 olivine, and widely distributed in collections around the world (see the Natural History Museum catalogue by Grady, 2000). The UCLA Leonard collection is one of many with a sampling of Covert (Wasson et al., 1974).

The Nininger collection was eventually sold by its owners, with a substantial selection being bought by the Natural History Museum in London, and then the remainder (about 80%) sold to Arizona State University. Nininger's policy was to try to find and purchase, and then retain a major portion of each meteorite as it was discovered. Thus ASU acquired 4 pieces of Covert, three of them between 3.6 and 6.7 kg each, for a total of 15.5239 kg or 25% of the 61 kg TKW (Karr et al., 1970).

Nininger and Fredrick Leonard founded the Meteoritical Society in 1933. This is a remarkable achievement in itself, since Nininger received little encouragement to pursue science, and had a hardscrabble farm upbringing in the midwest (Huss, 1986). In August 1923, while a biology teacher at MacPherson College, he read an article on meteorites, and three months later a fireball event led to a permanent career change. There followed six years of public education ventures, with emphasis on an endless road show of talks in small communities. Finally, his pioneer meteorite hunting ventures began to pay off, as exemplified by the Covert stones.

The finest exposition of Nininger's philosophy is perhaps expressed in his final major publication, the 1972 autobiography "Find a Falling Star". Covert was critical to Nininger's progressive move from college teaching to full-time, freelance meteorite hunter, lecturer and researcher. He tells the tale of the recognition and dogged pursuit of Covert here, recapping an earlier account of his success (Nininger and Muilenberg, 1931). Nininger had already tried following accounts of a recent fireball event, in hopes of discovering a fresh fall. He also gave numerous public lectures, and these led to the public bringing pieces of Covert (a "cold case" of at least 33 years standing) to his attention.

"The Covert meteorites gave assurance that my theory would be fruitful, and I now determined to resign my teaching position as soon as my finances were in better shape, and devote my time to meteorites. I proposed to lecture, hunt meteorites and supply specimens to museums" (Nininger, 1972, pp.30-31).

Furthermore, "By 1929, when the Covert meteorite was discovered as a direct result of my lecture program, I was convinced that one part of the earth's surface was just as likely to receive meteoritic falls as another, and that the education of the public as to the importance and value of meteorites would prove the largest factor in the discovery of meteorites" (Nininger, 1972, pp.106-107).

Harvey Nininger was not a professional meteoriticist in the standard academic sense, being neither chemist, nor physicist nor mineralogist. He advanced a number of hypotheses spurned over the years, such as the lunar origin of tektites and the existence of what one might call extreme variants on the normal classes of meteorite, such as one made of native copper (Eaton, Colorado, now accepted as an interesting "pseudometeorite", a name I like to award to a particularly stimulating "meteorwrong", not the typical basalt, slag, concretion, erratic, etc). I have seen some of the "Takysie Lake" example of this class, and agree with the consensus that it is actually a volcanic breccia of some kind, from British Columbia. Nininger argued for a lunar origin of the Takysie Lake material, which must have seemed outlandish at the time, yet, at the time of writing (6th August 2012), the Meteoritical Bulletin lists 155 lunar meteorites, almost all recognized in the past 15 years. A further 106 are listed as of martian origin (the various SNC achondrites), also the product of scientific methods and hindsight not available in Nininger's heyday. Regardless, H.H. shared a characteristic of longevity I find in many fortunate folk who have a passion for the subject, and he lived for nearly a century. He ultimately discovered some 226 meteorites (Huss, 1986), a record unlikely to be broken in settled lands (i.e., excluding the sparsely populated cold and hot deserts of the world, with their local concentrations of meteorites recognized belatedly since the 1960s).

The Niningers lived in a different time to today, especially while H.H. was developing a passion for meteorites, working as a biology teacher back in 1923. He stuck to his guns and largely achieved his aims, not allowing the disparaging words of eminent astronomers and geologists to put him down*. As a small homage to the life of the Niningers (H.H. and his admirable, truly forbearing wife Addie D. Nininger), a listing of Nininger's books, booklets and selected articles is appended. There is much more written, both by and concerning the Niningers, but this will serve as an introduction.

* Thus, to those enquirers whose ideas on meteorites and impact structures I have had to deny, whether through conviction or absence of adequate resources to make a thorough study --- take a critical look at your methodology, and, if you still feel convinced --- ask someone else. I'll be delighted to hear of your eventual vindication!



Grady,MM (2000) Catalogue of Meteorites. Natural History Museum, London / Cambridge University Press, 5th edition, 690pp. plus CD-ROM, p.157.

Karr,ML, Lewis,CF and Moore,CB (1970) Catalog of Meteorites in the Collections of Arizona State University including the Nininger Meteorite Collection. Center for Meteorite Studies, Arizona State University, v+257pp.

Nininger,HH (1972) Find a Falling Star. Paul S. Eriksson, Inc., New York, 254pp.

Nininger,HH and Muilenburg,JA (1931) Another Kansas meteorite. J.Geol. 39 no.6, 592-596.

Wasson,JT, Scott,ERD and Robinson,KL (1974) Catalog of the collection of meteorites at the University of California, Los Angeles (the Leonard Collection). Meteoritics 9, 85-98.

PARTIAL BIBLIOGRAPHY of items by or concerning

Nininger,HH and Muilenburg,JA (1931) Another Kansas meteorite. J.Geol. 39 no.6, 592-596.

Nininger,HH (1932a) A metallic meteorite from Ogallala, Nebraska. Amer.Mineral. 17, 221-225.

Nininger,HH (1932b) The Springwater meteorite. Amer.Mineral. 17, 396-400.

Nininger,HH (1932c) The Beardsley meteorite. Amer.Mineral. 17, 563-566.

Nininger,HH (1933a) A second stony meteorite from Nebraska. Amer.Mineral. 18, 56-59.

Nininger,HH (1933b) Our Stone-Pelted Planet: a Book about Meteors and Meteorites. Houghton Mifflin Company, 237pp.

Nininger,HH (1934) A gold-bearing stony meteorite from Melrose, New Mexico. Amer.Mineral. 19, 370-374.

Nininger,HH (1936) The Bruno meteorite. Amer.J.Sci. 231, 209-222.

Nininger,HH (1939) Diamonds in Canyon Diablo, Arizona, meteorites. Contributions of the Society for Research on Meteorites 2 no.2, 142-145.

Nininger,HH (1942a) The Eaton, Colorado, meteorite: introducing a new type. Contributions of the Society for Research on Meteorites 3 no.1, 85-92.

Nininger,HH (1942b) A Comet Strikes the Earth. Desert Press Inc., Palm Desert, CA, 4th revision of 1953, 77pp.

Nininger,HH (1943) The Eaton, Colorado, meteorite; introducing a new type. Popular Astronomy 51, 273-280.

Nininger,HH (1947) Chips from the Moon. Desert Press, 41pp.

Nininger,HH (1950) The Nininger collection of meteorites. Popular Astronomy 58, 267-278.

Nininger,HH and Nininger,AD (1950) The Nininger Collection of Meteorites: a Catalog and a History. American Meteorite Museum, 144pp., 38 plates.

Nininger,HH (1952) Out of the Sky: an Introduction to Meteoritics. Dover Publications Inc., New York, 336pp.

Nininger,HH (1956) Arizona's Meteorite Crater. American Meteorite Laboratory, 232pp.

Nininger,HH (1961) Ask a Question about Meteorites. American Meteorite Laboratory, Denver, CO, 87pp., reprinted 1989.

Nininger,HH and Huss,GI (1966) Free copper in the Odessa, Texas, siderite. Meteoritics 3 no.2, 71-72.

Nininger,HH and Huss,GI (1967) The Takysie Lake, B.C., stones: meteorites or moon rock? Meteoritics 3 no.4, 169-178.

Karr,ML, Lewis,CF and Moore,CB (1970) Catalog of Meteorites in the Collections of Arizona State University including the Nininger Meteorite Collection. Center for Meteorite Studies, Arizona State University, v+257pp.

Boyd,GA (editor) (1971) The Published Papers of Harvey Harlow Nininger. Center for Meteorite Studies, Tempe, AZ, 784pp.

Nininger,HH (1972) Find a Falling Star. Paul S. Eriksson, Inc., New York, 254pp.

Nininger,HH (1977) Meteorites: a Photographic Study of Surface Features. Part 1. Shapes. Arizona State University / Center for Meteorite Studies Publication No.16.

Huss,GI (1986) Remembrance of Harvey Harlow Nininger. Meteoritics 21 no.4, 551-552.

Graham Wilson, 06-07 August 2012, minor update on 06 October 2012

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