Stardust memories



The discovery of large numbers of meteorites on the ice sheets of Antarctica during the past several years recalls a passage in the book, Wind, Sand and Stars, by Antoine de St. Exupéry (Reynal and Hitchcock, New York, 1939). St. Exupéry was a pioneer aviator and one of the finest French writers of this century. He possessed a remarkable sensitivity to the meaning of human life that is combined in his writings with observations of the physical world of great clarity. The passage is

A minor accident had forced me down in the Rio de Oro region, in Spanish Africa. Landing on one of those table-lands of the Sahara which fall away steeply at the sides, I found myself on the flat top of the frustrum of a cone, an isolated vestige of a plateau that had crumbled round the edges. In this part of the Sahara such truncated cones are visible from the air every hundred miles or so, their smooth surfaces always at about the same altitude above the desert and their geologic substance always identical. The surface sand is composed of minute and distinct shells; but progressively as you dig along a vertical section, the shells become more fragmentary, tend to cohere, and at the base of the cone form a pure calcareous deposit.