Lunar and Planetary Laboratory Holds Arizona Meteorite Exhibition

The largest single gathering of meteorites found in Arizona will be on display on Jan. 30 during the Arizona Meteorite Exhibition.
Jan. 14, 2010
Extra Info: 

The event is free and open to the public.

What: 
Arizona Meteorite Exhibition
When: 
Jan. 30, 6 to 9 p.m.
Where: 
Kuiper Space Sciences Building
Painting by Joy Hill
Painting by Joy Hill
Depiction of Arizona meteorite finds.
Depiction of Arizona meteorite finds.
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If you want to get a glimpse of what the solar system looked like 4.5 billion years ago, Arizona is the place to be.

Since 1891 more than 95 separately classified meteorites found in Arizona have been recovered and recognized by the International Meteoritical Society. Meteorites contain clues about the formation of our solar system, its evolution and alteration.

The state's climate lends itself to the preservation of meteorites making it a haven for meteorite hunters worldwide. 

On Saturday, Jan. 30, meteorite hunters, collectors and enthusiasts will be treated to a free educational exhibition of the largest collection of Arizona meteorites ever gathered in one place.

The University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory has the goal of exhibiting at least one piece of every Arizona meteorite, with the help of statewide institutional partners and many private individuals during its Arizona Meteorite Exhibition.

These collections will be shared with the general public during the exhibition to be held in the Kuiper Space Sciences Building from 6 to 9 p.m. on Jan. 30.

On display will be specimens from the two Arizona meteorite falls that were observed and recovered – the Holbrook fall in 1912 and the recent Whetstone Mountains fall on June 23, 2009.  

Almost as interesting as the origins of the meteorites themselves are the stories of their falls and of their finds.  The finds have been recorded as part of the Meteorite Memory Project.

"In Holbrook thousands of meteorites fell in an instant – more than 14,000 meteorites fell. It was described as a sparkling shower of stones," said Dolores Hill, a meteorite expert at the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.  Hill said the exhibit will include copies of a Pauline McCleve's personal account of the 1912 fall. 

Hill described another remarkable find at Gold Basin, a strewn field where thousands of meteorites fell between 20,000 and 25,000 years ago. "Jim Kreigh, Twink Monrad and John Blennert kept the find quiet for three years as researchers from the UA worked with Jim and his team to document the more than 2,000 meteorites found in a 50-square-mile area."

Hill said the exhibit's focus is to "honor those people who have brought meteorites to be classified, the scientists who classified them and to bring people together to celebrate meteorites and the stories they tell."

Those who find and donate their meteorites help to advance knowledge of the solar system and our own planet. There are 38,218 named and classified meteorites.

From the known types of meteorites, Hill said her favorites are chondrites. "They are the most common but most exciting because they are the oldest known rocks in the solar system. There is no rock on this earth that you can pick up that is older."

She shows samples of two types of meteorites, one is called a carbonaceous chondrite and the other is an ordinary chondrite. "One has more carbon, indicating that it was probably formed in a different part of the solar system."

She points to little round objects on the surface of a meteorite sample called chondrules that she said were formed in the solar nebula before any of the planets or asteroids were formed. 

"One of the biggest educational elements of the exhibition is that we want people to know that there are a variety of meteorites and being able to classify the various types helps advance what we know about formation and evolution of our solar system. It is one thing to say it is a meteorite but another to tell you specifically what kind."

She cites for example the work of another meteorite expert, Michael Drake, the director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, who studies differentiated meteorites – those with a core, mantle and crust. The iron nickel metal is like the earth's core. 

Drake and his research group study which minerals the elements like to go into and under what conditions. These studies increase the understanding of how the earth's mantle and core may have formed.

Their research would not be possible without the generous donations of meteorite hunters and enthusiasts.  

During the exhibition there will be displays, experts providing information on meteorites as well as photos of the thin sections carved out of the meteorite specimens that are thinner than a piece of paper.

The exhibition coincides with the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, where numerous collectors, hunters and aficionados will come to buy, sell and admire meteorites.

The exhibition also features a lecture by Ed Beshore from the Catalina Sky Survey. The Catalina Sky Survey's Near Earth Asteroid Search Program's task is to search for asteroids with potential to hit the earth.

In October of 2008, the Catalina Sky survey team did just that as they discovered the asteroid 2008 TC3. Within 20 hours of impact, the team had found the asteroid, calculated its orbit and determined it would hit Sudan, which led to the meteorite find.

The evening's other lecturer will be Dante Lauretta of the planned Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security-Regolith Explorer mission, known as OSIRIS-REx. The proposed NASA mission plans to return a pristine sample of a carbonaceous asteroid for laboratory analysis by the world's most sensitive analytical instruments.

The talks begin at 6:30 and 7:45 p.m.

There will be hundreds of samples of individual meteorites thanks to partners such as the Arizona Museum of Natural History in Phoenix, UA Mineral Museum, Arizona State University, the Cascadia Laboratory, the Field Museum, Flandrau Science Center, the Arizona State Museum and many individuals.

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