IMCA Insights – August 2008
Meteorites in the Copernicus Tower
by Andrzej S. Pilski

Welcome to the August issue of IMCA Insights and to a meteorite exhibition in a very unusual place. Meteorites are now on display in a corner tower of the defensive walls surrounding the 14th century cathedral in Frombork, Poland, where Copernicus is buried. The tower is called the Copernicus Tower because Nicolaus Copernicus owned a room there about 500 years ago. He lived in this room on very rare occasions when living outside the fortifications was dangerous. Normally he lived in his house outside the walls. There in his garden he had arranged a place for astronomical observations. Just type “Frombork” in Google Earth and you can see the town, where I live now, and the Copernicus Tower hosting meteorites for two months this summer.

Copernicus’ Tower

The Tower where Copernicus lived during troubled times.
The wooden stairs lead us to the exhibition

The meteorites on display are from the collection of Kazimierz Mazurek, well known Polish meteorite collector, who always wants to share his meteorite collection and knowledge with people. His offer of an exhibition was accepted by the Nicolaus Copernicus Museum in Frombork – now administrator of the Tower – and, as a result of the joint venture, many people spending their vacation along the Baltic Sea can see meteorites – often for the first time in their lives.

Highlights of the Exhibition

The Highlights of the exhibition: a genuine 72 kg Campo del Cielo,
and the cast of the 168 kg Morasko

The exhibition occupies rooms on the second and third floor of the Tower. In the first room one can see display cases with the main classes of meteorites: irons, stony-irons, achondrites from Vesta, achondrites from other asteroids and from Moon and Mars and two cases with chondrites of every type. Posters above the display cases explain in Polish, English and German, what kind of meteorites can be seen below.

Stone Side

Stone side of the exhibition: achondrites on the left and chondrites on
the right. Note the tall narrow window in the wall as the Tower
served as part of the fortification for the cathedral

Upstairs, in the second room, visitors are welcomed by meteorites from Poland. The Centerpiece is a cast of the Baszkówka chondrite, but don’t think please, that the exhibition is composed only of casts. In fact there are only two casts here: Baszkówka and Morasko. The rest are genuine meteorites, more than 200 specimens. Then two display cases show examples of stone and iron fragments from meteorite showers. The exhibition is completed with tektites and impactites.

The Second Room

Polish meteorites and meteorite showers with map of Polish
falls and finds in between

It is not clear in which room exactly Copernicus lived, but the most suitable one is probably the one on the fourth floor and there visitors can see how Copernicus’ study might have looked like. Along with old furniture, there are reconstructions of astronomical instruments from his time and props from a movie about him. Visitors can feel the spirit of the time when Copernicus lived and worked here.

Copernicus’  Room

We guess this is what the studio of Copernicus in Frombork
might have looked like

Many visitors follow the path described above: a quick glimpse on display cases loaded with meteorites and they climb the stairs up. However a more careful visitor can find many nice specimens. Among the irons, the two large slices of Muonionalusta and Seymchan iron with great pattern are the most impressive, but a discerning collector can spot nice slices of silicate irons Udei Station and Lueders. The most admired are stony irons, where besides the large slice of Brahin, are sizeable slices of classics like Imilac, Esquel, Quijingue, Pallasovka and Marjalahti as well as Estherville and Vaca Muerta among the mesosiderites. A connoisseur can also find a small but nice slice of Steinbach. Many laymen mistake olivines for amber as we live on the amber coast and one can still find tiny pieces of amber when walking along a beach.


Large slice of Brahin pallasite accompanied by several pallasites
on the left and mesosiderites on the right

To me the most impressive is the display case of Vestoids, with many beautiful slices of howardites and diogenites from Sahara and Oman. Among the eucrites are sizeable endpieces of Millbillillie and Dhofar 007, but the most unusual is the slice of NWA 3158 eucrite with broad melt veins. Lunar and Martian meteorites, among the other achondrites in the next case, get a lot of attention, and many visitors ask how we know that these stones are indeed from the Moon or Mars. However they are rarely curious enough to look for me in the nearby planetarium and get an explanation. Regretfully, most of the visitors are in a hurry as if they were at work, not on vacation.


Nice collection of Vestoids:
Howardites to the left, Eucrites to the right, Diogenites below

Among the chondrites are large slices of ordinary chondrites from Sahara and Oman, plus some classics for the experts: sizeable slices of Portales Valley and Campos Sales plus an endpiece of Kendleton. In the next case, besides the beautiful slices of Benguerir and Saint Severin is an impressive, fresh, crusted chondrite from Sahara, 945 grams, not classified yet. There is a nice selection of carbonaceous chondrites too with some classics like Kainsaz, Allende, Murchison and Maralinga, but the most remarkable is the small slice of Bencubbin.

Crusted Chondrite

A 945 g chondrite waiting for classification. It looks like a LL4

The Polish meteorites are represented by a Morasko individual and a slice, a slice of Seeläsgen from the original find in 1847. And Jankowo Dolne, but it is not clear if this last one is a new find or one more specimen of the Morasko shower. It needs a more thorough examination. Most impressive for the visitors is the Baszkówka cast, so they often miss the genuine crusted fragment of this meteorite sitting inconspicuously besides it. There are Lowicz, Zakłodzie pieces and a sizeable individual of Pultusk found a year or two ago in the strewnfield. In addition there are small slice of Schwetz and tiny fragments of Grzempah H5 and Podgrodzie H4.

Polish Meteorites

The display case with Polish meteorites is dominated by
the cast of Baszkówka chondrite

The exhibition itself might not be a sufficient reason to visit Frombork, especially for a discerning collector, but it could be one additional reason to visit the place where Copernicus wrote his famous De Revolutionibus and where the modern astronomy begun. Moreover there is, close by the probable impact crater of Frombork. The only evidence for its impact origin is the high content of meteoritic dust in the soil around the crater. However, as of now, no meteorite has been found here.

The Frombork Crater

The Frombork Crater is situated about 2 km south
of the Copernicus Tower

One can get to Frombork by flying to the Gdansk-Lech Walesa Airport and then by bus directly to Frombork. From Germany there is a train from Berlin to nearby Braniewo (10 km) and from Braniewo a bus to Frombork. The exhibition will be open until the end of August. I would be delighted to welcome you here.

I wish to thank Anne Black for editing this article.

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