On the road: The American Museum of Natural History

Posted by David Eicher
on Thursday, April 21, 2011

When in New York the past few days, I spent a great deal of time at the American Museum of Natural History. Among the numerous collections on view at the institution are the specimens in the Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites. I spent a great deal of time in this gallery studying and photographing the collection, which is one of the best anywhere. The stones, irons, and stony-irons are displayed beautifully in a circular room spread about the gigantic Cape York chunk in the room’s center. Named Ahnighito, this 34-ton mammoth is the largest meteorite on display in any museum.

The Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites in New York contains dozens of spectacular examples of meteorites arranged around the central huge chunk of Cape York. This piece weighs 34 tons and is the largest meteorite on display in any museum. All photos by David J. Eicher
Other significant meteorites in the room are many, and I will present them in detail later. For the time being, I’ll share a few images I shot of some favorites, which include a great slice of Allende. This famous Mexican fall in 1969 was startling to meteorite science because the stones contain beautiful chondrules (solidified drops of minerals) and calcium-aluminum inclusions that contain minerals from the early moments of the solar system, some 4.567 billion years ago. Allende contains amino acids, among other compounds, which are the building blocks of proteins and an essential chemical key to forming life.

A short distance away, I found a spectacular and large (a couple inches across) piece of Zagami, the largest martian meteorite on Earth. This stone fell in Nigeria in 1962 and was recognized as martian when gases trapped in crystals inside the stone matched the atmospheric composition of Mars as recorded by the Viking landers. The stone is basaltic lava from the Red Planet, consisting of mostly pyroxenes with some plagioclase glasses and minor amounts of other compounds.

Another few steps brought me to a breathtaking slice of Dora, a pallasite. These special meteorites have an iron-nickel main structure with inclusions of forsterite (olivine), a gemmy, golden yellow-green crystal. Some 16.8 pounds (7.6 kilograms) of this stone were recovered in New Mexico in 1955. While iron-nickel meteorites represent the cores of asteroids and the stony meteorites their mantles, the prized pallasites originated from the border, containing core iron-nickel along with lighter minerals like forsterite.

Another very unusual slice of an iron caught my eye: Mount Joy, which was discovered in 1887 in Pennsylvania and is the largest U.S. meteorite to fall east of the Mississippi River. Iron-nickel meteorites cooled extremely slowly, giving them amazing patterns of crystallization. The crystals in this meteorite are huge — among the largest I’ve ever seen.

That’s a minor preview of much more coverage I’ll provide you about the Ross Collection of meteorites in the future.

The Allende meteorite fell in Mexico in 1969 and is famous for its many chondrules, solidified drops of minerals such as olivine and pyroxene. This meteorite contains amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.

This fine piece of Zagami is a chunk of the largest martian meteorite on Earth.

This spectacular slice of the Dora meteorite came from a fall in New Mexico; its beautiful forsterite (olivine) crystals in the iron-nickel matrix glow when lit from behind.

Mount Joy, found in 1887 in Pennsylvania, is an iron-nickel meteorite with enormous crystals, as evidenced by this slice.

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