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Russian Academy of Sciences Meteorite Museums and Meteorite Collection

I have always admired the world class Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), especially the meteorite museums and meteorite collection. The RAS was established on February 8, 1724 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It now consists of a network of over 1,000 scientific research institutes from across Russia and is now headquartered in Moscow. It combines members of the RAS who are elected based on their scientific contributions, and scientists of its institutions. There about 450 foreign members of the RAS or just under 20% of the RAS membership. The RAS employs about 125,000 people of whom 47,000 are scientific researchers. From 1933 to 1992, the main scientific journal to the RAS was the Proceedings of the USSR Academy of Sciences, and after 1992, it became simply the Proceeding of the Academy of Sciences.

Various meteorites from the Russian Academy of Sciences meteorite collection. Photo credit/courtesy of the Vernadsky Laboratory of Meteoritics (website).
A beautiful oriented Sikhote Alin with the signature white cloth Laboratory of Meteoritics of the Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences labels attached to it. Photo credit/courtesy of the Vernadsky Laboratory of Meteoritics (website).

The Russian Academy of Sciences has about 25,000 meteorites in its collection which includes duplicates from the same location. About 3,000 meteorites in their collection are from different locations, which include 150 falls. 182 of the collection’s meteorites were collected on the Russian and USSR territory. They are mostly represented by the main masses. The RAS collection also include Impactites and Tektites. The Russian Academy of Sciences meteorite collection is the largest meteorite collection in Russia.

A beautiful 120.1 gram Sikhote Alin shrapnel iron with natural patina with the famous white cloth Laboratory of Meteoritics of the Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences labels attached to it, and accompanying paper label from the Laboratory of Meteoritics of the Vernadsky Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences obtained from my friend Mike Farmer.
A look at one side the RAS shrapnel piece. The top cloth label on the Sikhote Alin indicates the weight in grams. The bottom cloth label corresponds to the number assigned to it from the Vernadsky Institute of the RAS.
A view of the other side of the RAS sharapnel specimen. The cloth label corresponds to the number assigned to it from the Vernadsky Institute of the RAS which matches the corresponding paper label.

My friend Dr. Alan Rubin (UCLA) introduced me to Dr. Marina Ivanova, Senior Scientific Researcher at the Laboratory of Meteoritics and Cosmochemistry of the V.I. Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry. I mentioned to my new friend, Marina, that I noticed on the Fersman Museum Russian website that there was a reference to the Soviet Academy of Sciences. I asked her, was the Russian Academy of Sciences ever called the Soviet Academy of Sciences? Her response is below:

“In Russia, the Academy of Sciences was founded in 1724 in St. Petersburg by decree of Peter I and was originally called the Academy of Sciences and Arts. In 1803 it was renamed the Imperial Academy of Sciences, in 1836 – the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, in 1917 – the Russian Academy of Sciences, and in July 1925 – the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. If in the pre-revolutionary period the activity of the Academy was concentrated mainly in St. Petersburg, where most of its members lived, then after the October Revolution the situation changed: scientists working in different cities of the country began to be elected to the Academy of Sciences. At the same time, the organization of branches and research bases of the Academy of Sciences in the republics, territories and regions of the USSR began, and planning of research work was carried out. When in April 1934 the presidium [headquarters] of the Academy and 14 scientific institutes were transferred from Leningrad to Moscow, the system of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR included about 80 scientific institutes with about 2 thousand scientists (from all republics, Estonia, Ukraine, Georgia, Belorussia….).
After the Soviet Union collapse the Academy of Science of USSR began again Russian Academy of Science. Today, the Russian Academy of Sciences is the State Academy of Sciences in RUSSIA, the country’s highest scientific organization, a leading center for fundamental research in the natural and social sciences in RUSSIA.
Estonia, Ukrania, Latvia, Belorussia and other [former] republics have their own Academies of Sciences.”

Therefore, the RAS was never formally called (named) the Soviet Academy of Sciences (SAS) although informally, the Soviet Academy of Sciences name is occasionally used like on the Fersman Museum website.

My 28.5 gram Ochansk with Oscar Monnig – Texas Christian University (“TCU”) label, and hand painted Monning number obtained from my friend Mike Bandli. The hand painted white “M” stands for Monnig, the “199” was his designated number for Ochansk, and the “.1” meant this was the first Ochansk Monnig numbered – a very special meteorite. Oscar Monnig had one of the world’s largest private meteorite collections with about 3,000 specimens which he donated to TCU. Monnig was a founding member of the Society of Research on Meteorites later renamed the Meteoritical Society.
The Ochansk fragment with attached small blue label and accompanying typed paper label that my friends Sergey Vasiliev, Mike Bandli, and I thought were possibly from the RAS.
A close up of the small blue label with number 496 attached to the Monnig Ochansk specimen. Dr. Marina Ivanova, Senior Scientific Researcher at the Laboratory of Meteoritics of the Vernadsky Institute told me that the Ochansk specimen was not from the RAS because the number 496 is not in the RAS database. She said, it was probably from one of the former republics of the Soviet Union such as Estonia or Ukrania which had their own meteorite committees and meteorite collections. They would have done their own trades of meteorites.

There are two meteorite museums in the Russian Academy of Sciences. They are the Museum of Extraterrestrial Material of the Russian Academy of Science, and the Fersman Mineralogical Museum. The Laboratory of Meteoritics of the Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences is the custodian of the meteorite collection of the Russian Academy of Sciences, but is not a museum. A part of the RAS meteorite collection is exhibited in the Museum of Extraterrestrial Material at the Vernadsky Institute, and in the Fersman Mineralogical Museum of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Only the Fersman Mineralogical Museum is open to the public.

A photo of the Museum of Extraterrestrial Material of the Russian Academy of Sciences Photo credit/courtesy of the Vernadsky Laboratory of Meteoritics (website). The Museum only allows visitors with appointments and is not open to the public.

There are other museums that have meteorites like the State Museum of the South Ural History (formerly the Chelyabinsk State Museum of Local History) which houses the main mass of Chelyabinsk. The Geological Museum of the Russian Academy of Sciences houses meteorites, but these meteorites do not belong to the RAS . The Geological Museum has their own collection of meteorites which were donated from private dealers, collectors and other people. Only two museums, the Museum of Extraterrestrial Material of the Russian Academy of Science, and the Fersman Mineralogical Museum house the meteorites of the RAS.

In 1749, the RAS’ meteorite collection began with its first meteorite – a 700kg stony-iron – the legendary Krasnoyarsk (Krasnojarsk) meteorite. Kaspar Mettich, an Inspector of Mines for the Krasnoyarsk Province, and Yakov Medvedev, a blacksmith, are credited for finding the meteorite near Krasnoyarsk. Although the local Tartar people knew about the iron boulder and its possible origin. The boulder was a sacred object for the Tartars who thought it was a holy stone fallen from Heaven. Medvedev, who lived a wandering life learned about the iron boulder from the local Tiaga tribes which he called the Tartar people. He decided to take a look at it while searching for an ore deposit. Whether it was for duty or profit, Medvedev showed Mettich the iron boulder. In 1771 or 1772, Mettich wrote a report to Pyotr S. Pallas (Peter Simon von Pallas), zoologist, botanist and Fersman Museum Director, saying that he had noticed an iron boulder lying near a mineshaft. Medvedev could not have written anyone about his find since he was illiterate. Medvedev haulded this iron boulder down from the mountains. Pallas’ servant Yakub visited Medvedev, and chiseled off a 40 pound (18 kg) piece of the boulder and brought it to Pallas. Pallas saw something in the iron boulder that made him report it immediately to the RAS in St. Petersburg. Naturally occurring terrestrial iron is rare. The RAS after some hesitation transported the boulder to the capital.

Krasnoyarsk (Krasnojarsk) was the first pallasite ever found that was studied for the first time as a meteorite in 1794 by Ernst Chladni, and led to the creation of the Pallasite group named after Pyotr Pallas. In 1794, Chladni’s book Über den Ursprung der von Pallas gefundenen und anderer ihr ähnlicher Eisenmassen und über einige damit in Verbindung stehende Naturerscheinungen (“On the Origin of the Iron Masses Found by Pallas and Others Similar to it, and on Some Associated Natural Phenomena”) laid the foundation of scientific meteoritics. Krasnoyarsk is sometimes called the Pallas iron, the name given to it by Ernst Chladni. Krasnoyarsk was the first meteorite etched with acid by William Guglielmo Thomson to reveal the Widmanstatten pattern also known as Thomson structures. Thomson was treating the Krasnoyarsk meteorite with nitric acid to remove the dull patina caused by oxidation. After the acid made contact with the metal strange patterns appeared on the surface which he described in detail.

In 1808, Widmanstatten pattern was named after Count Alois von Beckh Widmanstatten, Director of the Imperial Porcelain works in Vienna. While flame heating iron meteorites, Widmanstatten noticed color and luster zone differentiation as the various iron alloys oxidized at different rates. The discovery was acknowledged by Carl von Schreibers, Director of the Vienna Mineral and Zoology Cabinet, who named the structure Widmanstatten. However, it is believed the discovery of the metal crystal pattern should have been assigned to William Guglielmo Thomson, as he published the same findings four years earlier.

An amazing storybook way to start a meteorite collection with the Krasnoyarsk (Krasnojarsk) meteorite and its rich history.

The main mass of 514.55 kg (1,134 lbs) of the Krasnoyarsk (Krasnojarsk) meteorite is now in Moscow at the Fersman Mineralogical Museum, Russian Academy of Sciences. The Fersman meteorite collection grew to be the largest collection in Russia. From 1935 to 1939, almost all of the meteorite collection was reissued to a newly organized Meteoritic Commission (later Committee on Meteorites) of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. A significant part of the meteorite collection, including meteorites collected after 1939, are on permanent display in the Fersman Mineralogical Museum under the curation of the Meteoritic Committee. The collection is comprised of about 300 meteorites of different localities, 57 impactites, and 22 Tektites. In addition, it has 28 different, mostly rare, mineral specimens found in meteorites that are catalogued as minerals. It also houses the largest mass of Sikhote Alin, a 1,745 kg specimen. The Fersman Museum has their own repository of meteorites that do not belong to the meteorite collection of the RAS curated by the Vernadsky Institute.

A pin and stamp of acclaimed scientist Vladimar Vernadsky. The pin states, Russian Academy of Natural Sciences. The stamp on the left says, Academic Vernadsky and bottom notes, Post of the USSR.

The Laboratory of Meteoritics of the Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences, located in Moscow, is the curator and custodian of the meteorite collection of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The Vernadsky Institute has a small Meteorite Museum – The Museum of Extraterrestrial Material of the Russian Academy of Science (about 300 meteorites from different localities) for visitors with appointments, and a big international repository of meteorites for research. The Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry is named after Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky, a celebrated Russian mineralogist, naturalist and historian of science, the father of geochemistry, biogeochemistry, radiogeology and cosmochemistry, and the founder of the influential Ukrainian Academy of Sciences (now the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine). He was one of the first scientists to recognize that the oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere result from biological processes. Towards the end of the 19th century, the mineral collection was diminishing due the museum gravitating toward geology and paleontology whereby the mineral collection was being replaced by rocks and fossil exhibits. In the early 20th century, Vernadsky was in charge of mineralogy, and it once again thrived under his leadership. Vernadsky was credited with hiring many young, talented and energetic scientists.

In 1939, Vernadsky was the first head of the Meteorite Committee, and at his urging the fundamentals of research on meteorites was organized in the USSR, and the Meteorite Committee and journal Meteoritika were founded. Emphasizing the increasing importance of Meteoritics, Vernadsky wrote: “It seems to me that the significance of Meteoritics is only now entering scientific significance. We have a large amount of ready material for these studies – this is the meteorite collection of the Russian Academy of Sciences. It could not and should not be untouched museum material, but should simultaneously be both preserved and used as a tool of directed scientific study. Once destroyed, a meteorite cannot be replaced, because each fall is a one-of-a-kind natural body, a unique natural phenomenon sometimes of unique importance. Especially for the field of knowledge, the conscious participation and understanding of the broad masses of the population are needed. The number of meteorites recovered is directly proportional to the cultural level of the population, and its activity in recovering them.”

A 212 gram Sikhote Alin covered in Regmagypts with unique cloth label and matching paper label from The Vernadsky Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences obtained from my friend Matt Morgan. The plastic pouch is the original from the RAS.
The other side of the RAS Sikhote Alin.
The RAS Sikhote Alin.
A rich history captured in letters of the trade for my 212 gram Sikhote Alin with the USSR Academy of Sciences. What outstanding provenance! Dr. Marina Ivanova informed me that the Russian Academy of Sciences rarely does trades.
The outer packaging for the box that contained my RAS Sikhote Alin. The address is no longer valid for the Committee on Meteorites for the USSR Academy of Sciences.
A letter out of a time capsule from over three decades ago sent by the RAS.
A voyeur’s peek into the past. Note the P.S. which mentions the meteorite catalogue of the Soviet meteorite collection.
The meteorite catalogue mentioned in the letter. The RAS no longer prints its meteorite catalogues on paper. The RAS keeps an electronic database of its meteorites in its collection.
A page from the RAS meteorite catalogue that lists Sikhote Alins. Unfortunately, like many others, mine was not listed in the catalogue.
Black twine that once wrapped the package containing the RAS Sikote Alin and a lead seal stamped with “AH CCCP.” Per Dr. Marina Ivanova, the “AH CCCP” is a Russian abbreviation of The Academy of Science of the USSR.
The twine with the other side of the lead seal stamped with “KMET.” Per Dr. Marina Ivanova, the “KMET” is an abbreviation in Russian for The Committee on Meteorites.

 

Acknowledgements

Dr. Dmitry D. Badyukoff – Ph.D. of Geology-Mineralogical Sciences, Head of Meteoritics Laboratory, Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry of the Russian Academу of Sciences. I am thankful for Dmitry’s friendship and support of this article.

Dr. Marina Ivanova, Senior Scientific Researcher at the Laboratory of Meteoritics and Cosmochemistry of the V.I. Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry. PhD. Graduated Moscow State University, Geological Department. Dr. Ivanova has been studying meteorites since her Diploma work at the University. I am grateful for my friend, Marina’s tireless support, answering my endless questions. This article would not have turned out as well as it has without her support.

Dr. Pavel Yu. Plechov – Doctor of Geology-Mineralogical Sciences, Professor, Director Fersman Mineralogical Museum of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Professor of Moscow State University. I thank Pavel for his friendship and providing resources for my article.

Kseniya A. Konovalova – Master of Geology-Mineralogical Sciences, Keeper of Research Foundation and Meteorite Collection, Fersman Mineralogical Museum of the Russian Academy of Sciences. I am grateful for Kseniya’s friendship and support, answering questions, and giving me insight into the Fersman Museum.

Dmitry Sadilenko, Senior Research Fellow at the Laboratory of Meteoritics and Cosmochemistry of the V.I. Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences. I thank him for his assistance.

Sergey Vasiliev, my friend, who is always generous with his time, for not only this article but any other questions or requests I have had for him.

All my other friends who gave me contact information for people at the Russian Academy of Sciences

 

References:

Ivanova M.A. and Nazarov M.A. 2006. The history of the Russian meteorite collection. In The history of Meteoritics and Key Meteorite Colletions: Fireball, Falls and Finds. (Ed. McCall G.J.H., Bowden A.J., Howarth R.J.) Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 256, 219-236.

Wikipedia – Russian Academy of Sciences

Meteorites.ru

Wikipedia – Vladimir Vernadsky

PSRD (Planetary Science Research Discoveries): Meteorite collection in Moscow, Russia

The history of Fersman Mineralogical Museum 1 – Минералогический музей имени А. Е. Ферсмана РАН (fmm.ru)

Wikipedia – Ernst Chladni

Wikipedia – Oscar Monnig

Emails between Dr. Dmitry D. Badyukoff and Mitch

Emails between Dr. Marina Ivanova and Mitch

Emails between Dr. Pavel Yu. Plechov and Mitch

Emails between Kseniya A. Konovalova and Mitch

Emails between Dmitry Sadilenko and Mitch

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