An Article In Meteorite Times Magazine
Martin Horejsi's Meteorite and Tektite Books


 

The Oriented Miller Chondrite:

"A White Pigeon...

...But Moving Much Faster!"

large CAI

 

Ninety-six percent of the total mass of the Miller, Arkansas meteorite is on display as a single specimen in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. This stone is such a great textbook example of an oriented meteorite that it actually is in textbooks as a great example of an oriented meteorite.

Miller is an H5 chondrite that fell as a single16.7kg stone in Cleburne County, Arkansas at 9 am on July 13, 1930.

In the 1988 book Thunderstones: A study of meteorites based on falls and finds in Arkansas by Derek Sears, the fall of the Miller chondrite is given barely a paragraph of only four sentences. The gist of the entry is as follows:

-the fall was a quite affair,

-the meteor was likened to a white pigeon,

-it raised a cloud of dust in a dirt road,

-it made a 50cm hole,

-it's now in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

This might have been the end of the story except that an article about meteors in the Heber Springs, Arkansas newspaper "caught the attention" of a resident named Charlsie Stark DuBois. It seems Ms. DuBois had intimate knowledge of the fall of the Miller meteorite because it fell on her Grandparent's farm on July 13, 1930. She contacted the paper and a story was published in the newspaper on October 3, 2003 chronicling the fall of Miller according to documents Ms. DuBois discovered following the death of her mother Opal Bailey who passed away on March 8, 2003. Julian Baily, was Charlsie DuBois's grandfather, and assumed ownership of the Miller meteorite after it fell.

Pigeon Smidgeon

The brief line the the Sears book describing the fall as similar to a fast white pigeon is a beautiful metaphor elegantly failing to capture the true violence of events such as this, and definitely one not usually associated with that of a hypersonic 16.7 kg rock slamming into the ground.

Seven year old Leon Bailey concluded that it was not a Columba livia, but instead he thought an airplane crashed. It also appears in the report that this "white pigeon" made a "thunderous crash into a dirt road creating a huge mushroom cloud of dust" which is a rather unusual behavior for even the most aggressive New York City pigeon.

It's Miller Time!

The distribution of Miller, Arkansas in collections is painfully limited for one main reason. Unlike many other oriented meteorites, the Miller, Arkansas stone was not sliced, diced, or otherwise broken apart--to any great extent anyway. Of the 16.7 kg single stone of Miller, 96% is still intact. That translates to about 700 grams for the rest of the world. According to the Catalogue of Meteorites, in addition to the 16kg main mass at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), the Smithsonian holds 80g, the DuPont Collection held 39g, the Field Museum in Chicago holds 32g (.pdf catalog, page page 123), the Natural History Museum in London holds 9.5g, and the Academy of Science in Moscow holds a scant 1.2g.

My suspicion is that the 700g figure is somewhat generous. Early reports at 36 pounds, 10 ounces which is less than the 16.7kg unless troy ounces are used. Further, there may be some rounding down to the nearest kilogram of the AMNH specimen. And even further, there is no accounting for saw loss where a further 10% reduction would be realistic. Given these assumptions, my suspicion is that less than half a kilo is all the material ever separated from the main mass that in in collections world-wide.

The reason I used past tense with respect to the DuPont collection is because the 39g mass has been sliced, and smaller (but better in my opinion) portion now resides in my collection. In fact, the crust on my end section still holds the painted collection number from the DuPont collection. The original specimen card from the DuPont collection went with the other half which poses an interesting question: If there was the choice between an original specimen label, or an original painted specimen number on the meteorite (everything else equal of course), which would you choose and why. Since I did not have a choice, I am be happy either way, but having considered this question now, I suspect a similar situation will arise sometime in the future.

CAI close up

 

Disbelief followed by elation is a good way to describe my initial reaction when I realized that a 18g piece of Miller was going to enter my collection. Adding to this specimen's features are its high percentage of crust, and a historic DuPont collection specimen number gently painted on the graceful fusion blanket tucking in the rarely seen matrix.

 

vigarano

 

As with many historic meteorites, there was a feeling by witnesses that this stone was burning hot as it sat in its hole in the ground. After just the right amount of time had passed (silly how that works), the stone was explored further since it was now cool enough to touch. But there was still a real fear that it might explode, or be contaminated with something.

 

CAI close up

 

A side view of Miller shows both the beauty of this celestial gift, and the beast of our attack on it with crude tools. Luckily the welcoming committee that hacked at Miller with pocket knives and even a hammer did not destroy this alien in their shower of greedy goodwill.

In a not-very interesting word connection, a miller is someone who operates a mill to grind grain into flour. So in a bad pun, I can say it's a good thing Miller did not get milled, and milling is something that is done to meteorites. (see the top of page 61)

 

 

Miller made an appearance at two fairs, but failed to become enough of an attraction to sustain a worthwhile cash flow. A few bids to buy the meteorite came in from museums, and even a generous $20 offer from the local postman, but it took the financial resources of none other than the famous banker J. P. Morgan to coax the Miller stone from Julian Bailey's hands. The reported sum of $800 Mr. Morgan paid for the meteorite was enough for Julian to purchase a new Plymouth automobile which is apparently just what he did.

 

The oriented meteorite formally named Miller, Arkansas was donated to the American Museum of Natural History on November 11, 1930, where it now blends into a stunning array of amazing meteorites in the Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites. Here is a small but gorgeous photo of the stone posing on the AMNH website.

Oddly, as if nobody in their right mind would want to see the trailing face of one of the world's best oriented meteorites, The underside is almost completely hidden from view. I must have appeared a little odd myself disappearing under the display using a flashlight to see all sides of this glamorous chondrite.

In addition to the limited visual access, the crude ironwork of the display stand testifies, in my mind anyway, to the lack of appreciation for this specimen's contribution to meteorite wonder and science. Its as if a beautiful rare animal was captured and shackled for all eternity in a dark iron cage where the rusty bars scrape at its precious flesh.

 

Of course one can only spend so much time photographing a priceless historic meteorites including Miller before attracting the attention of the security. But I bet I was the first person in a very long time to visit Miller and who also personally owns a piece of this amazing stone.

 

Enough Already!

inverted color CAI

 

On a side note, the display of meteorites and minerals, in my not-so humble opinion, is difficult to fully enjoy because of its obsolete high-contrast harsh light-dark design. The cosmic treasures were in a dangerously dark room filled with glaring spotlights pumping photons onto discrete but random regions of only some specimens.

I can't imagine a worse display design. Oh wait, I can. Imagine giving the full replication how these things would look in space many astronomical units from the sun by dropping the room temperature to 3 degrees kelvin (-270 degrees C), evacuate all the air, and roast the visitors with UV, X and gamma radiation. Then the display would be worse.

However, as a returning visitor, I did come prepared with a flashlight to see the specimens better. In fact, it might have been the flashlight that alerted the security guard that I was not a run-of-the-mill observer.

 

NWA2086 exterior

 

The above picture is a large plate of amethyst crystals in case you couldn't tell. When I saw this I tried really hard to find some reason it was displayed the way it was. The actual crystals were impossible to see and the extreme lighting set the edges on fire making any attempt to enjoy this geologic beauty futile.

This is not rocket science! Three things apply here. 1) light travels in a straight line, 2) your eye can only see light that is emitted or bouncing off an object, and 3) the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection. So if you aim your light source 90 degrees off the viewing direction of the observer, the light source provides no illumination to the viewer!

Significant Saw Marks

 

This is something most people have never seen- a cut face of the Miller, Arkansas chondrite. Pretty uneventful I admit, but still rare. When comparing the saw marks on my piece with that of the display specimen in the AMNH, my guess is that this face is an original cut that matches the main mass. Which, since the other side is crust, and my piece tapers to a corner (where the specimen number is painted) that I know the rough thickness of the piece removed from the main mass.

 

In the two pictures below, one can see (and imagine) the extent of the removed portion of Miller that makes up all the specimens outside the AMNH main mass.

 

Until next time, I'll just keep pondering the heavenly heart shape of the famous Miller stone and enjoying my


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