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The Lafayette Meteorite and Purdue’s 150th Anniversary Celebration

I was directed in early May to someone wanting to acquiring a specimen of the Lafayette, Indiana Meteorite for teaching and study. He was thinking on a purchase of several grams. He pointed me to an article of how a couple of students, Phillip Cozariuc and Lauren Dilk had gather petitions for the return of some of the Lafayette Meteorite during the 150th anniversary of Purdue. The students had attended a class by Professor Andrew Freed who describe the history of the meteorite and how it was found in the collection of Purdue. Some research was conducted on how the specimen was obtained originally by the university but no one is certain of how it finally ended up in the collection.

Harvey Nininger had written in his Published Papers on the Lafayette Meteorite. He was the first to give a detailed description of the characteristics of the meteorite along with a story from Farrington of the Field Museum, of how it may have ended up in the collection of Purdue University in Lafayette. It was said that a student of Purdue was fishing on a small lake when he heard the stone land along the muddy shore very near him. The student went over and washed the stone off and kept it for a period of time before turning it over to the university for identification.

Nininger states that in Farrington’s papers, no information related to the Lafayette fall could be found. I have quizzed a curator at the Field Museum on Farrington’s information that might be stored and to the best of the museum’s knowledge, nothing has been found. Also information about the person who had recovered it wasn’t found and remains a mystery. Perhaps information lost at Purdue or the Field as we are talking over a century. The information may have been loss with the passing of Farrington. Farrington had visited Purdue in 1931 to assist them in their geology collection when the Lafayette was discovered.

 

Nininger had stated from the pristine condition of the Lafayette, that it had to be recovered from the abuses of nature before damaging mechanical effects had occurred. The Lafayette Meteorite has been dated with a terrestrial age of about 3,000 years which seems to contradict a recovered fall. However in a PDF of the Lafayette Meteorite suggested possible contamination of the specimen tested. It also has been suggested that Lafayette is a part of the Nakhla, Egypt fall, but the extra terrestrial water found in Lafayatte is the highest of all the Nakhlites. It also has the most alteration of material, and seems to have an older age, meaning it is probably a unique fall.

I contacted Dr. Freed on a possible visit to see the display of the Lafayette meteorite and a Apollo 17 lunar return sample at the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering. I had attended the launch of Apollo 17 so the history of this Apollo Mission remains near and dear to me. Apollo 17 was the only night launch of a moon mission. I also wanted to share with them my collection of Indiana meteorite specimens of Lafayette, Noblesville, and Plymouth along with a Sikhote-Alin, a nice unclassified NWA Stony with black crust and a lunar specimen.

ON May 23rd I visited the campus of Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana. I want to say that my hosts Andrew Freed and Michelle Thompson really rolled out the red carpet for me and gave me a first class tour of the displays, shared with me research being done at Purdue. Professor Freed was also kind to show me the campus and a bit of the history I did not know.

I was able to interact with a number of students and showed them my specimens of meteorites. I was taken into the “Mars Room” where I met
Briony Horgan who will be a researcher on one of the next Mars Rovers. I was treated to virtual reality goggles you could wear and look around and see the landscape of Mars as the rover had photographed the landscape and terrain of Mars. The next best thing to being on the surface of Mars and looking around yourself!

Michelle Thompson a researcher at Purdue, is studying the effects of solar radiation on lunar soil from Apollo return samples and even more, the study of return samples brought back from asteroids such as the Hayabusa mission to Itokawa. Michelle was kind to share her work with me and show me a micron sized dust particle from the asteroid. While small such particles can tell us much about the dynamics of solar winds, cosmic rays that occur in our solar system. Purdue is hoping to have more samples to study in the future and a bigger presence on the study of the effects of space weathering of asteroids, moons and solar system objects.

Purdue has a modest collection of meteorite specimens on display. Also the Lafayette Meteorite display out in the main hall where students and visitors can see the meteorite along with a wall display of the Apollo 17 Moon rock at the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering. A copy of the original article can be found Here: https://www.jconline.com/story/news/2019/04/25/lafayette-meteorite-piece-mars-hidden-purdue-drawer-returns-campus/3571480002/

The Lafayette Meteorite will be on display at Purdue through the second week in October. There are some meter parking spaces in the Northwestern parking garage. Otherwise, street parking in the neighborhood to the south is OK for two hours – signs are posted. If in the area it would be an interesting stop for a few hours visit.

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