IMCA Insights – May 2009
The collision last October of the asteroid 2008 TC3 with our Earth, which resulted in a small shower of unusual ureilites in Sudan, has made clear that meteorites belong to the realm of astronomy. So it is good for the International Year of Astronomy 2009 to prepare a meteorite exhibition, especially in the very place where Copernicus initiated modern astronomy—Frombork, Poland. This year meteorites occupy a rather large room on the third floor of the former Bishop's Palace today the main building of the Nicolaus Copernicus Museum.
The Bishop's Palace,
today the Nicolaus Copernicus Museum
The exhibition is entitled “On stones from the sky and on people bewitched by them.” Its theme is expressed in a preamble: The fate of rocks from the sky depends on us, people. The stones come from other worlds where there is neither air nor water, and where they weigh very little. Our terrestrial environment is hostile to them. If nobody finds them and ensures good care for them in a well-curated collection, they will soon be eaten by rust and will disintegrate into dust, mixing with the soil. That's why the history of the stones in a collection is always connected with the history of people who, despite everyday trouble, find time for taking care of the newcomers from space. In this way, they make their own lives more colorful and often make history in the process.
A general view of the exhibition
The exhibition starts with a display case with true and false meteorites at the beginning of an introductory section “How to recognize meteorites.” In the next cases a visitor can see examples of meteorites most easily recognized: chondrites and irons. Then starts the second section on Polish meteorites and scientists, which contains some rarities. At its beginning we see the rare historical chondrites Lixna and Zaborzica, examined at the University of Vilnius when Ignacio Domeyko was a student there. Domeyko is the most renowned mineralogist of the nineteenth century in Chile, and the discoverer of the Vaca Muerta mesosiderite. Visitors can see pieces of Vaca Muerta and Imilac brought to Poland by Domeyko together with labels handwritten by him.
The display case
containing the Lixna and Zaborzica meteorites,
As a surprising
addition, there are two meteorites from Julian Siemaszko, the best known
Russian meteorite collector of the nineteenth century, who first coined
term “meteoritics.” He traded many of his finds with the largest
European meteorite collections and did so in Kraków as well. Here one
can see pieces of Mighei CM2 and Estherville MES accompanied by the
genuine labels of Siemaszko, where his last name is written Polish. It
is not a Russian last name translated into Polish. It is a true Polish
last name. So was Siemaszko Russian or Polish?
The main mass of the
Morasko iron cut open and etched to show
Krzysztof Socha recently found a small piece of Morasko iron driven into a root of a larch tree and he argues that it is evidence of a recent fall. Opponents say that the meteorite could have been driven into the root by an exploding missile when it was a military firing ground. Remember that the very first find of Morasko was made by a soldier. Dr Lukasz Karwowski, professor of geology at the University of Silesia, points out that even if it is not a recent fall, Morasko cannot be an old fall as many specimens were known to locals earlier, just found during ploughing. So it seems improbable that no iron from an old fall would be used by blacksmiths. Dr. Karwowski, with Mr. Socha, conducted experiments showing that the Morasko iron is well-malleable despite its many inclusions. Moreover, some of the Morasko finds have fusion crust as fresh as the recent Sikhote-Alin finds. So the Morasko iron is mysterious indeed.
One of the Morasko
specimens from the exhibition shows traces
Pultusk shower display case, one can see how a stone “ages” from lying
in terrestrial soil. There are specimens picked up soon after the fall
with fresh, black crust, then a specimen found about 60 years after the
fall, and two very recent finds of Pultusk, which look just like recent
finds of Gao-Guenie. In a nearby case, “relatives” of Pultusk are
displayed and everybody can see how easy it is to mistake another H
chondrite for Pultusk, hence how important it is to have the provenance
of a meteorite specimen.
The centerpiece of
the Lowicz display case is the nearly 4 kg
There are fragments of the recent Polish meteorites Baszkówka and Zaklodzie with articles about them, but most surprising to viewers would be the Gujba bencubbinite in the Polish section. Yes, it fell in Nigeria, but one of the first researchers examining the fall was a Polish geologist, Dr. Stanislaw Ostaficzuk, who brought fragments to Poland. The meteorite was examined by Dr. Karwowski and submitted to the Meteoritical Bulletin as an unusual chondrite possibly related to Bencubbin and Weatherford. Unfortunately, the submission was kept there about a year until Dr. Rubin submitted his results from another fragment purchased in Nigeria by Eric Twelker. A visitor can see one of the first fragments of Gujba borrowed from Dr. Ostaficzuk plus a beautiful slice bought from Eric Twelker.
A historical fragment
of the Gujba bencubbinite from Dr. Ostaficzuk
The next section shows where meteorites come from. There are meteorites from the asteroids 4 Vesta and 6 Hebe with explanation of how we know (or suppose) their origin; then there is a meteorite from Mars and from the Moon, possible meteorites from comets, and another asteroid, 298 Baptistina. The section ends with diamonds in meteorites and olivine as the most common mineral in the Solar System. Unfortunately, only one meteorite collector from abroad was bold enough to loan his precious martian meteorite for the exhibition. The exception was Dr. Svend Buhl.
The poster and display case of Dr. Svend Buhl
December I sent a message to all IMCA members describing my dream of an
exhibition and expressing my hope that some of the IMCA members would be
able to help me. There were a few nice responses with promises, not made
good in most cases, but in general the response was rather discouraging.
Given that unfortunate response, Dr. Svend Buhl shines as a star of the
first magnitude in the sky. First, he sent a very kind, encouraging
letter and then he sent a nice selection of specimens (including one
martian), not randomly selected but an excellent fit to my exhibition,
plus some excellent images. So he fully deserves a special poster and
display case. Thank you, Svend!
A Polish couple
searching for meteorites in the desert,
an enigmatic couple in Poland who, like Françoise and Michel Franco from
France, like to search for meteorites in the desert. They want only to
be know by their Internet persona, “the Jan Woreczko Collection,” and
offered a large selection of their desert finds for the exhibition plus
many other beautiful specimens from their collection.
Among field guides by
Haag and the recent field guide by
probably well known that when Robert A. Haag decided to be a meteorite
hunter, he asked astronomer O. Richard Norton to explain to him all
about meteorites. It looks like a chain of good will: then Bob Haag
helped me, another astronomer, to start with meteorites, then I could
contribute to the Encyclopedia of Meteorites by Norton with images of
the Baszkówka chondrite, and finally Dr. Buhl could contribute to my
exhibition with the very meteorite from the cover of the last book by
Norton. These are the mutual contributions which make the meteorite
world go around.
which were found and/or examined
member who announces his/her visit early enough will be greeted with
free entry and my personal guidance through the exhibition. Part of the
exhibition has a description in English, so it is possible to look at
the exhibition without a guide as well.