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Museum Receives Piece of Rare Meteorite in Joint Acquisition

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The main mass of a rare meteorite that exploded over California’s Sierra foothills in April 2012 has been acquired through the collaborative efforts of five U.S. academic institutions, including the American Museum of Natural History.

Sutter's Mill meteorite

The main mass of the rare Sutter's Mill meteorite before being divided among five academic institutions: the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution, The Field Museum of Chicago, Arizona State University, and UC Davis. The 205-gram mass is the largest stone recovered from the meteorite that exploded over California's Sierra foothills in April 2012.

Linda Welzenbach/Smithsonian Institution


In simplest terms, a meteorite is a rock that falls to Earth from space. The Sutter’s Mill meteorite is considered to be one of the rarest types of meteorite—a carbonaceous chondrite containing cosmic dust and presolar materials that helped form the planets of the solar system. Its acquisition signifies enhanced research opportunities for each institution and ensures that scientists can study the meteorite for decades to come.

 “Present and future study of extraterrestrial samples help us understand the origin of our solar system as well as extrasolar planetary systems,” said Denton Ebel, curator in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “The American Museum of Natural History collections serve as resources for scientists around the world, so it is great to be able to curate this important specimen for posterity.”

The meteorite formed about 4.5 billion years ago. While it fell to Earth, it was roughly the size of a minivan before exploding as a fireball, and less than 950 grams have been found. Its main mass weighs just 205 grams (less than half a pound) and fits in a human palm. The mass was cut into five portions, now residing in the collections at the Museum, Arizona State University, The Field Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, and the University of California, Davis (UC Davis).

Sutter's Mill meteorite

The main mass of the rare Sutter's Mill meteorite after being divided among five academic institutions: the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution, The Field Museum of Chicago, Arizona State University, and UC Davis. The portion now here at the Museum is at far left in the photograph.  

Smithsonian Institution


This is the first consortium meteorite acquisition that was scanned with computed tomography (CT) prior to its division, allowing prior knowledge of the contents of each resulting piece. The Museum worked closely with UC Davis to secure specimens of Sutter's Mill right after its fall and performed nondestructive CT scans of several specimens loaned by their finders. These scans were used to determine the density of several samples to very high accuracy, confirming the type of meteorite represented by Sutter's Mill.

 

For more information about the acquisition, see the Museum’s press release.

 To read about the original analysis of the Sutter’s Mill meteorite, read this post; read more about meteorites and other space rocks here, or visit the Museum to inspect meteorites up-close in the Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites. 

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