Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
Cosmochemistry provides critical insights into the workings of our local star and its companions throughout the galaxy, the origin and timing of our solar system's birth, and the complex reactions inside planetesimals and planets (including our own) as they evolve. Much of the database of cosmochemistry comes from laboratory analyses of elements and isotopes in our modest collections of extraterrestrial samples. A growing part of the cosmochemistry database is gleaned from remote sensing and in situ measurements by spacecraft instruments, which provide chemical analyses and geologic context for other planets, their moons, asteroids, and comets. Because the samples analyzed by cosmochemists are typically so small and valuable, or must be analyzed on bodies many millions of miles distant, this discipline leads in the development of new analytical technologies for use in the laboratory or flown on spacecraft missions. These technologies then spread to geochemistry and other fields where precise analyses of small samples are important.
Despite its cutting-edge qualities and newsworthy discoveries, cosmochemistry is an orphan. It does not fall within the purview of chemistry, geology, astronomy, physics, or biology, but is rather an amalgam of these disciplines. Because it has no natural home or constituency, cosmochemistry is usually taught (if it is taught at all) directly from its scientific literature (admittedly difficult reading) or from specialized books on meteorites and related topics. In crafting this textbook, we attempt to remedy that shortcoming.