Below is a suggested tour that you and your students might take through the Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites. Questions and activities are provided for each area to help your students gain an understanding of the main concepts as they move through the exhibition. In addition, some areas of the Hall lend themselves to particular subjects of science. The Origins section explores the chemistry of meteorites. The Planets section would be of interest to students of Earth and planetary science. The Impact section presents evidence and theories that relate to the physical science of orbiting and colliding bodies. Additional activities, designed for your students to use independently or in small groups, can be found in the "While You're at the Museum" section of this guide.
The Meteorite Theater
As an introduction to your visit, you and your students may enjoy viewing the short film. The film presents the role of meteorites and their connection to the history of our solar system. It provides a solid foundation for understanding the concepts presented in the exhibition.
The Center Area
The centerpiece of the exhibition is the 34-ton meteorite Ahnighito (ah-nah-GHEE-toh)—part of the Cape York (Greenland) meteorite. In this introductory area, touchable specimens and simple text explain the differences among stony, iron, and stony-iron meteorites; the difference between falls and finds; and the surface features of meteorites. Two other pieces of the Cape York meteorite, the Woman and the Dog, are also displayed.
Encourage your students to examine the touchable meteorites and compare them. Students might use their magnets as tools to identify the iron meteorites.
Invite students to compare Ahnighito with the Dog and the Woman. Point out that all three are pieces of the Cape York meteorite. Indicate that the Dog and the Woman are smooth, while Ahnighito has a rough surface. Ask students to find out why.
This area examines the origin of our solar system and the formation of meteorites in the solar nebula. The component particles of meteorites are highlighted and organized according to their different chemical characteristics.
Featured Specimen: Three pieces of the Allende meteorite, which fell in rural Mexico in 1969. This unusual meteorite, and ones like it, contains the oldest known material formed in the solar system.
Have students examine the thin section of Allende, identify the component particles, and read the text that explains how the chemical composition of the meteorite provides information about the formation and early evolution of the solar system.
The next three cases highlight chondrules, CAIs, and matrix, the "stuff" primitive meteorites are made of. Have students note how each of these components formed in the solar nebula. Of particular interest is how scientists determine the age of CAIs.
Direct students to the section on parent bodies and have them locate the pieces of the Kunashak (koo-nah-SHAK), Kyushu (kee-EW-shu), and Suizhou (SHOO-zoo) meteorites. Ask students to explore how scientists determined that these three meteorites came from the same parent body.
The Solar System: From Hot to Cold highlights the uneven distribution of elements in the early solar nebula. Have students compare the chemical makeup of planets closest to the Sun with the chemical makeup of the outer planets. Ask: How does the chemical makeup of a meteorite relate to its distance from the Sun?
|Earth and Planetary Science|
This area examines the formation of the early solar system 4.6 billion years ago. Many of the meteorite specimens in this section can be used to illustrate the process of differentiation in planets.
Featured Specimen: Fragments of the Brenham meteorite. The Brenham meteorite is an example of a stony-iron pallasite meteorite and contains fragments of gemlike olivine crystals embedded in an iron-nickel alloy. Billions of years ago, this meteorite formed when a large asteroid melted, and density differences caused it to separate into an inner iron core, a mantle, and a rocky crust. The Brenham meteorite came from within the deep interior of this asteroid.
In the three cases that follow—Crust, Mantle, and Core—students learn how planets differentiate to form a core, a mantle and a crust. Ask: What causes a planetary body to differentiate, and how does this relate to the planet Earth?
Rare and beautiful pallasite meteorites, with combinations of gleaming metal and translucent olivine crystals, are highlighted in the Mantle case. Have students examine the pallasites. Point out that scientists have yet to find a meteorite that they can prove came from the mantle of an asteroid. Have students read the theories associated with this puzzle and decide which one makes the most sense to them.
In the next case, students can see iron meteorites that display the Widmanstätten pattern. Have students note how the pattern forms. Ask: How do scientists know that metal displaying this pattern is definitely from a meteorite?
In the case that follows, students can learn about the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars, and view specimens from Vesta, an asteroid that "lives" in the belt. Ask: How did these meteorites get to Earth? How are scientists able to match each meteorite sample to a different part of Vesta's surface?
Martian meteorites are on display in the next case. Have students compare them to other meteorites in the Hall. Point out that, unlike Martian meteorites, most meteorites are pieces of asteroids. Have students explore how the meteorites from Mars reached the Earth and how scientists know they are from Mars.
This area explores the influence of impacts on the Earth's history; the probability of impacts of different sizes; the number and sizes of meteorites; and our present knowledge of the asteroids, comets, and space dust that cross the Earth's path.
Featured Specimen: A fragment of the meteorite Sikhote-Alin (ci-KO-tay ah-LEEN), which fell in Siberia in 1947. The 100-ton iron meteorite exploded at an altitude of about 15,000 feet and shattered into thousands of fragments, which uprooted trees and dug hundreds of craters in the frozen taiga.
Encourage students to examine the specimen of Sikhote-Alin. Have them note the fingerprint-like impressions on its surface and the twisted shape caused by the intense explosion. Ask: Why are large meteorite samples found in small craters and small meteorite fragments found in large craters?
Students can explore craters in the Earth Impacts case. Of particular interest are the tektites and the shatter cone patterns. Have students examine how tektites and shatter cone patterns are formed.
Suggest students investigate the interactive computer station: Hazards: Impacts in Our Future.
A model of the 1,200-meter-wide Meteor Crater (Arizona), also known as Barringer Crater, is displayed in the next case along with two fragments of the Canyon Diablo meteorite that created it. Have students note how the impact formed the crater.
Suggest students explore the Moon display along the railing. Here students can learn about the current theory of moon formation and can explore crater formation. Have students compare the Moon rocks on display. Ask them if they can identify which part of the Moon the rocks came from. Point out that the white anorthosite is from the lunar highlands, the part of the moon that looks white or bright-colored to us from the Earth; the black basalt is from the lunar mare—areas of the moon that appear dark to us from the Earth.