by Mark Bostick
Meteorites at the AMNH
Setting on it's side, it looks
uncomfortable. The bottom, filled with holes, shown upright on display. The
holes are from weathering and yet inside is very smooth. While feeling inside
one of the holes, I am reminded of a sculpted Gibeon meteorite in my collection.
It is the Willamette meteorite. The largest meteorite ever found in the United
States. History of this meteorite is meteorite folklore. It's court case helped
decide meteorite ownership in the United States. Now and since most of the time
since its discovery, the Willamette is at the American Museum of National
History, otherwise known as the AMNH. During my break for the Denver Mineral
show this September, I went to Manhattan, to visit the AMNH. Here in one
building you can see two of the largest meteorites ever found. The
fore-mentioned Willamette and the Ahnighito, the largest of the Cape York irons.
I arrived at the AMNH in the morning. Cement stairways led up to its huge column entryway. In front of the Museum overlooking the street, an iron statue. A man on a horse. The plaque tells me it is honor of a New York major from 1909 to 1911. I wonder what the major did in such as a short time as I am entering the Museum.
In the entryway I find an informational desk manned by two elderly women. One hands me a map to the Museum and points out the ticket booth in the corner. A package ticket for $24.00 lets me into both the main museum and the Rose Center, the IMAX theater for "Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa" and to the Laser Show for a show on life outside earth, narrated by Harrison Ford. It is 45 minutes before the space movie and so I start to walk around the Museum. The first set of rooms I enter displays different Cultures from different times, what they wore, how they hunted, how they built their buildings, and the like. Being meteorite mind set, I looked for a display on Northern Greenland people, with the artifacts brought back by Peary to the museum, but could not find one. After walking around the different culture hallways for a little while, I thought I better do a short visit to the meteorites before the space show begins.
Down one floor, through the Human Biology and pass Lucy, across the Evolution room, and the Hall of Gem and Minerals, I find the Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites. This display is not really in a hall, it is one of the corners of the castle like building. Here in the middle of the dimly lit room, Ahnighito stands proudly on six pegs. A mirror above it allows visitors to sit it from other views. Large Canyon Diablo and Gibeon meteorites join the two Cape York irons, known as the Women and the Child, in a partial circle that close off one side of Ahnighito.
The walls are lined with informational displays, meteorites and related in small cases along with easy to understand text. It starts with carbonaceous meteorites and an Allende end cut, I am guessing weighs 2 kilos. One section showed a Sudbury Shatter cone and described the effects of a large impact, another section had earth rocks that resemble meteorites. One side with a game room size Trivia machine with meteorite questions. Easy questions for me but good enough the average person, having just learned
the fact a few minutes earlier, might go back for a second look at that last display.
Four Apollo capsule shaped display cases show off a variety of different meteorites. One capsule showed irons and stony-iron slices. In this display is a Brenham slice of mostly iron, a slice that has been pictured in many different books. Another capsule had a nice assortment of carbonaceous meteorites, including a large Karoonda slice and a Leoville slice with saw marks. Perhaps Leoville has been deemed to valuable to waste against a polisher. Other notable meteorites include, a small L'Aigle individual, an etched Willamette slice, a large ALH76009 end cut, a Leoville slice, A non-weathered Huckitta slice, a nice collection of Imilac, Nininger-like bent tektites showing the once liquid center and more.
A small film room has been sectioned off in one corner. Inside it four benches rest in front of a screen on which short film that is shown repeatedly. The film is informational, lacking only meteorite hunting.
On the wall of the film room is a backdrop of the moon. In front of this stood three podiums, On top of each podium, a different type of Apollo moon specimens. Each piece was several inches across and each piece encased in Either plastic or glass. One appeared to be a lunar mare rock (appeared black), and another a lunar highland rock (appeared white). The third looked very much like a eucrite meteorite and did not resemble any of the moon meteorites I have seen.
Attached to the AMNH is the Rose Center for Earth and Science. This is better known as the Hayden Planetarium. A glass cube that is 1,904,303 cubic feet. Inside it is the cube, the Hayden Sphere, a large masterpiece of art and science. The Sphere itself weighs four million pounds and is supported by 6 columns. The top half of the Hayden Sphere contains the Space Theater, also known as the Laser Show, while the bottom houses, The Big Bang. The Laser Show was good but seemed short. It began many miles underwater and takes you from there to outer space. Overall, I was a little disappointed. The Hayden Sphere is the largest virtual reality simulator in the world and I do not think they used the technology available to them to the fullest. The image from the Mars rover was breathtaking and better presented here then in other formats. At "The Big Bang" you find another light show as you are shown the big bang relived. The stairway leading to the ground from here, is the Cosmic Pathway, a universe timeline. A sloping walkway that leads around the Hayden Sphere. The Cosmic Pathway was designed so that each step you take is the same passage in scaled time.
The Hall of Planet Earth has the most impressive geological display I have even seen. Organized into exhibition zones based on five major questions. Questions like, How do we read rocks?, and Why is Earth Habitable? The displays were informative with large visual displays. For us meteorite fans, a large slice of a carbonaceous meteorite and an iron meteorite, unidentified, can be found in this room.
Gift shops have affordable and not so affordable items. Postcards were $.50 and a good bargain, but they lacked any showing meteorites. I was surprised not to find a Cape York or a Willamette postcard. In the gift shop at the Hayden you could find a couple small Canyon Diablos in glass domes, the Bridgette Fonda's book, Meteorites by Cambridge Press and a small collection of micro mounts in a box. All except the book, overpriced, as meteorites outside the meteorite market tend to be.
The Museum library is very old and features a large respectable collection of hard to find books. This however, is not true for meteorites. While, they did have a few old books, some of which are hard to find, the collection was much smaller then what I had hoped to find. The majority of the books were the later meteorite printings. On its public shelf sat only one book, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Meteorites by Richard Norton. The rest were stored in a section considered rare publications, and only accessible to staff members. I filled out a couple request forms, and one of the staff members quickly found them for me. After buying a $1.50 copy machine card and filling it with credits I managed to copy a few pages that would entertain me on my flight to Denver the next day. The library is on the dinosaur floor and these displays were quite impressive. Many complete dinosaurs skeletons are shown here. All arranged in order of evolution. It made the very impression Fossil room at the Tucson Mineral Show look like a garage sale. (Sorry, tried to stay meteorite focused, but you really must see the dinosaur displays there).
I spent 7 hours in the museum and enjoyed it very much. The cost of the Museum was very fair and its non-meteoritic displays are well done. Restrooms and phone booths were available on every floor. The cafeteria offered food for a variety of diets. Parking is kind of high and you would likely save a few dollars by just taking a cab. I found the staff members to be friendly and helpful. Many of these donate their time for free. If you are ever in the New York, Manhattan area I highly recommend planning a day for a visit. The fact that you can touch both Ahnighito and the Willamette is enough to have me become a museum member if I was a local. Perhaps I could become a volunteer and hang out in the dark room with the meteorites all day. Maybe even let them put me on display. METEORITE COLLECTOR, Rare Primate, Will commonly spend large amounts of money on small rocks. Tries to prove a meteorite origin to every hole in the ground, the reason for every geological time end, bringing life to the planet and for anything else unknown. Very contagious.