Building the Solar System

Part of Hall of Meteorites.

Exhibition panel showing text and gems and minerals M. Shanley/©AMNH

Before Meteorites, There Were Minerals

The solar system began as a hot, swirling cloud of dust and vapor. Over 4.6 billion years later, you stand on a dynamic, rocky planet called Earth. Meteorites represent the early steps on the journey from particles to planets—but before meteorites, the vapor and dust cooled, condensed and formed minerals. Today, we find and study these resilient crystals in meteorites that fall to Earth.

Thermometer graphic with specimen IDs & captions showing temperatures and different minerals.
M. Shanley/©AMNH

Where Are These Found?

The specimens above represent mineral species that formed early in our solar system’s history, as temperatures dropped and particles condensed. These building blocks of rocky planets are found both on Earth and in meteorites. Iron and nickel make up Earth’s core; the rest are components of the crust and mantle.

In This Section

Corundum specimen. M. Shanley/©AMNH

Corundum, Al2O3

Corundum is the first mineral to condense out of a vapor with the same chemical composition as the Sun.

Spinel specimen in exhibition. M. Shanley/©AMNH

Spinel, MgAl2O4

Spinel appears in calcium- and aluminum-rich inclusions in chondritic meteorites.

Olivine specimen in the meteorite's exhibition. M. Shanley/©AMNH

Olivine, Mg2SiO4

Olivine is common in most meteorite types, most strikingly in stony-iron meteorites known as pallasites.

Iron Nickel Alloy specimen in the exhibition. M. Shanley/©AMNH

Iron-Nickel Alloy, (Fe,Ni)

Metal alloys are found in iron-nickel meteorites that were once planetary cores, as well as in most stony meteorites.

Enstatite specimen. M. Shanley/©AMNH

Enstatite, MgSiO3

Enstatite is common in all stony meteorites.