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Monday, 10 October 2016

What's in a name?

At this time of year I, along with most keen birders, hope to renew acquaintances with one of the most delightful of all the phylloscopus warblers, the 'seven-striped sprite', Pallas' Warbler. Resembling a deluxe Yellow-browed, this beautiful little bird has lemon-yellow supers, crown stripe, wing-bars and rump that contrast with moss-green plumage. Particularly interesting to me, though, is that it is named after the same person as my favourite class of meteorite.

Perhaps unsurprisingly (as a professional dealer in space rocks!) I find all meteorites equally fascinating and, in their own way, aesthetically appealing. But, I have to admit, Pallasites, with their beautiful structure of olivine fragments suspended in a nickel-iron matrix, are probably the most visually exciting, particularly to the non-specialist. In addition to their undoubted beauty and rarity, Pallasites offer us an intriguing glimpse into the interior of a planet that make them among the most scientifically important of all meteorite types.

The name Pallasite is derived from that of the German naturalist Simon Peter Pallas. Pallas was one of those amazingly observant and gifted polymaths that seem to have been a lot more abundant during the eighteenth century: as well as lending his name to a whole class of meteorite, an eagle, two warblers, a rosefinch, a gull, two species of bat, the best-looking of all wild cats and dozens of other plants and animals bear his name!

In 1772, Pallas obtained a 680kg lump of metal that had been found near Kransnojarsk, Siberia. When it was examined in St Petersburgh, it was identified as a new type of stony meteorite. In keeping with tradition, it was named after the location where it was found, but, uniquely, the whole class of meteorites was named for Pallas.

So, if you connect with a Pallas' Warbler this Autumn, perhaps you might reflect on the largely-forgotten genius after whom it was named!

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