IMCA Insights – May 2009
Meteorites in Frombork once again
by Andrzej S. Pilski

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

The Bishop's Palace, today the Nicolaus Copernicus Museum
in Frombork, Poland

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

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.

Display case with Vilnius meteorites

The display case containing the Lixna and Zaborzica meteorites,
and meteorites brought to Poland by Domeyko and Siemaszko

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 centerpiece of the Polish section and of the whole exhibition is the main mass of the Morasko iron found in 2006 by Krzysztof Socha, the best Polish meteorite hunter, accompanied by a few his smaller finds.

Morasko - Main Mass

The main mass of the Morasko iron cut open and etched to show
its internal structure. The dark inclusions are composed mainly
of troilite and graphite

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.

Morasko - Flight marks on fusion crust

One of the Morasko specimens from the exhibition shows traces
of flight markings on its crust

In the 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.

In the Lowicz display case, the central place is proudly occupied by a quite large specimen with a difficult terrestrial story, which fortunately had a happy ending. It was brought in 1935 to the Astronomical Observatory at the University of Warsaw, Poland, by an astronomer, Maciej Bielicki, who was sent to Lowicz to investigate a meteorite fall. Then came World War II and the Observatory was destroyed. After long searching in the ruins of the Observatory, the meteorite was found and is still kept in the rebuilt Observatory. Recently an endpiece was cut to create a window to show its internal structure, and it was traded with the Planetarium in Olsztyn, Poland, for a few other meteorites to create a small didactic collection for astronomy students.


The centerpiece of the Lowicz display case is the nearly 4 kg
windowed specimen from the collection of the
Astronomical Observatory of the University of Warsaw, Poland

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
and the Annals of Borno with the very first article on Gujba

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.

Svend Buhl’s poster and case

The poster and display case of Dr. Svend Buhl

Last 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!

Of course the Polish IMCA members, Marcin Cimala, Slawomir Derecki, Tomasz Jakubowski, Kazimierz Mazurek, and Lukasz Smula, were very helpful and loaned many of their specimens for the exhibition. But they are members of the Polish Meteorite Society as well and their contribution is not a contribution of the IMCA only.

Meteorites from a desert

A Polish couple searching for meteorites in the desert,
and their crop below

There is 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.
The two last sections: “Meteorites in the life of people,” with Svend Buhl's and Jan Woreczko's cases, and “Well-known meteorites” offer a rather loose collection of stories on meteorites. There is too little room and too few display cases in the Museum to show all of the stories I know, not to mention those I am not aware of. But I could not miss the story of Robert A. Haag and O. Richard Norton.

Haag and Norton case

Among field guides by Haag and the recent field guide by
Norton is the very first meteorite I held in my hands:
the small Canyon Diablo specimen donated by Bob Haag
to an exhibition in my Museum 19 years ago

It is 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.

I am not able to describe in detail the whole exhibition. Please just come and see it. But I really need to mention one more person: my very good friend, Dr. Valentin Tsvetkov from Russia, who visited Frombork many times and whose Sikhotes triggered many meteorite collections here in Poland. A display case shows four meteorites Tsvetkov examined in person: Sikhote-Alin, Chinga, Tsarev, and Seymchan.

Tsvetkov’s meteorites

Russian meteorites which were found and/or examined
by Dr. Valentin Tsvetkov

Every IMCA 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.

Let me to say THANK YOU to more contributors to the exhibition: Maria Haas, Anne Black, Norbert Classen, and Erich H. Haiderer for their specimens loaned, and Larry and Nancy Lebofsky for editing all descriptions and this report into understandable English. A special thanks goes to Martin Altmann, who gifted me a slice of Neuschwanstein, when I did not even think it would be shown at this exhibition.

The exhibition is open to the public until October 18, from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. every day, except Mondays, when the Museum is closed. I know it is far for most of you, but remember please: it is the International Year of Astronomy. The best way to get here is by plane to Gdansk airport and then by bus or by car to the town of Frombork, about 100 km from Gdansk.

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