An Article In Meteorite Times Magazine
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The Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites:

in the American Museum of Natural History

in New York City


Wandering another of the world's great meteorite collections.

The Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorite reopened on September 20, 2003, but it wasn't until last week that I got a chance to visit the meteorites I last saw a decade ago. In this installment of the Accretion Desk I am providing a collection of photos I took of the displays.

The display did a wonderful job of presenting meteorite science in a way that applies what meteorites tell us instead of what we tell them (Like hey you. You're a chondrite. And you over there, you're an achondrite). In fact, the website provides excellent meteorite education resources. I like the idea of using themes to share the information about meteorites, but the dark room, harsh lighting, and often poorly lit specimens made viewing them more of a struggle than it should have. For some reason, both the Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites and the Smithsonian's meteorite display (which happen to be two of the greatest meteorite collections on earth) have the glorious specimens are blasted with spotlights while presented in a dark room.

The harsh, bright spot-lighting of the huge irons might make them more mystic, or frightening, but to me anyway, it made the specimens hard to study especially the overhanging regions that were completely in the dark. Next time I visit this display, I'm going to bring a powerful flashlight.

Since so much about the display and its meteorites is presented on the AMNH website, I refrained from providing piles of detail here. However, many of the close-up pictures were taken with an on-camera flash, they are not the best. Sorry about that. But it does allow contrast between flash pictures and compared to the hall's spot lighting. For example, the picture below is without flash. If you look closely at the specimens in the cases, you can see harsh spot lighting on some pieces, and dark, hard to see regions on other specimens. While there, I wished that the whole room was bathed in bright white light so I could actually see details on the pieces, especially the large irons.

The Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites is a very dark, circular room in the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York. In the classic form of old museum presentation, the meteorites are presented in harsh lighting from odd angles, some even back lit, making viewing the detail somewhat difficult.

However, the organization of meteorites is based more on inferential science rather than our naming scheme which tells us nothing about the solar system unless one looks up the implications of the various meteorite classes.

This installment of The Accretion Desk is an overall view of the of the AMNH meteorite display.

As most of you know, the AMNH is home to Anighito, the largest meteorite in captivity, and the second largest in the world. It is the showpiece of the collection occupying a place of honor in the absolute center of this round exhibit hall.

Of course, Peekskill also has a prominent display presence, but no videos of its fall were playing. To me, a great contribution of technology to museum displays is that of multimedia. I suspect that the tiny still picture of the fragmented meteor (smaller even than the display specimen itself) makes little sense to a viewer new to the event.

Maybe it was my great interest in the historical meteorite display that made this security guard keep a close eye on me. I guess that most folks are captivated by other much larger specimens instead of the blocky chunks of such ordinary chondrites as Ensisheim, Wold Cottage, L'Agile, and Weston.

The AMNH is home to the main mass of Johnstown, Colorado. Several large pieces of this diogenite were displayed including this heavily crusted end section with cut face.

But before one can view the meteorites (right now, anyway) one must find them. It was no small task since the display cut off from the regular museum traffic flow. Accessing the display required a committed effort including the navigation a labyrinth of hallways, stairways, and doors. In the above photo, a heavy metal fire door is the final obstacle to the display.

Luckily, the thoughtful folks running the museum plastered the floors, walls, and doors with signs showing the way. Of course it was an equally harrowing journey back.

The individual thematic displays are identified with a simple, bold statement, followed by a second more descriptive few words. Then the case is filled with examples of meteorites displaying the features representing the case's theme. Here we have the how the cooling of the early solar system produced the materials creating...

...the building blocks that formed the initial planetesimals, of which one in particular is...

...Vesta, a large asteroid from which we believe we have specific representative samples.

More exciting than a futuristic techno thriller move, the matrix display featured a handful of exposed surfaces highlighting the inner workings of chondrites.

This cutting-edge science of the displays promoted materials found in chondrite matrix material that is likely not from our solar system.

Pushing the envelope again, an entire section is devoted to CAIs, and made no bones about the fact that these white inclusions predate the cooled earth.

The crust of small bodies in the solar system is represented by a case packed with achondrites with a couple of aubrites on top, followed by some eucrites, a howardite, and a ureilite. Finally, bringing up the rear (or bottom) is a diogenite.


The pallasites (plus one mesosiderite) were treated as gems, but the science was clear; these beauties represent the mantel region in a small body (except the meso of course).

"Iron meteorites are fragments of the shattered cores of differentiated asteroids." Clearly one must do their homework to understand the display's message.

Of course the great Widmanstatten Pattern is presented in all its glory. A point is made that this crystal structure is not found on earth- at least not anywhere we can go.

As should be expected, the diverting stepchild, Impacts, is addressed. But luckily the display designers kept it tight to meteorites featuring many in the display. While cratering is an important science, frankly, it is secondary to meteorites, and this is a Hall of Meteorites.

Since no display would be complete without a detour through Meteor Crater, Arizona, the AMNH addressed it in a pleasant way.

My favorite aspect of the cratering display is a 3-D diorama of the crater with an exposed cross-section. Too bad they don't sell these in the gift store.

But I did find a small individual of Canyon Diablo for sale in the Hayden Planetarium portion of the museum (which will be addressed next month). If my memory serves me correctly, this 56g cleaned individual retailed for $250 plus tax! Umm...ouch!

I assume that's about 25 bucks for the meteorite and $225 for the plexiglass case, wooden base, metal sign, photographic background, brass caliper stand, specimen card, and of course, the excitment of walking away with a meteorite after viewing a world class meteorite display. Location, location, location, right?


The Accretion Desk welcomes all comments and feedback.