The measurement of meteorite heat capacity at low temperatures using liquid nitrogen vaporization

Guy J. Consolmagno, Martha W. Schaefer, Bradley E. Schaefer, Daniel T. Britt, Robert J. Macke, Michael C. Nolan, Ellen S. Howell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Meteorite heat capacity (specific heat) is an essential parameter in modeling many aspects of the orbital and internal evolution of small solar system bodies, and can be a tool for characterization of the material in a meteorite itself. We have devised a novel method for the measurement of this quantity in whole- rock samples of meteorites, at low temperatures typical of asteroids. We insert the sample in liquid nitrogen, measure the mass of nitrogen boiled off due to the heat within the sample, and calibrating against measurements of pure quartz with a temperature-averaged heat capacity of 494J/kgK we calculate the temperature-average heat capacity of the sample. We show that this method is accurate, rapid, inexpensive, and non-destructive. Preliminary results for chondrites and metal rich meteorites are in excellent agreement with the literature data for meteorites, and hold the promise that such measurements may not only produce values useful to modelers but they also may provide an efficient way to classify whole meteorite samples and characterize subtle differences between meteorites of different compositional classes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)146-156
Number of pages11
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
StatePublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Asteroids
  • Heat capacity
  • Laboratory
  • Meteorites
  • Physical properties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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