Saturday, June 16, 2012

Stardust at the Smithsonian: The Allende Meteorite

I don't suppose many people plan a trip to Washington, D.C., just to see a rock.  Even in this day and age it is really no big deal to see a rock from outer space or some heavy piece of iron that crashed through our atmosphere and blazed across a night sky.  Even seeing rocks from the moon have become fairly common in today's museums.  This rock, on display at the National Museum of Natural History, is a little bit different.  Actually, it's a lot different.

The Allende Meteorite crashed to Earth in Mexico in 1969 and is the oldest artifact belonging to the Smithsonian Institution (and the world's oldest known natural specimen), which is to say it is very, very old, ...unimaginably old, considering the number of historical artifacts belonging to the Smithsonian.   

 The Allende Meteorite is not from our Solar System, that's because it predates our Solar System - not the planet, the entire Solar System - by 200 MILLION years.  It is 4.600.000.000 years old, that's 4.6 BILLION, with a B!   

A teenage boy and his father were casually looking at the meteorite on display in its case, similar to most people who look briefly, then continue on.  I couldn't help but casually mention to them "It's the oldest artifact the Smithsonian has.  Anywhere!"  I went on to explain a little about the space rock when the boy said, smiling "That's very cool, once you know what it is!"   He and has Dad were beaming in awe of this rock as I walked away.  Who could blame them?  

These tiny diamond crystals were forged in the explosion of a dying star (like our Sun) and much later were mixed into the cloud of gas and dust that gave birth to our Solar System.  The crystals were found in the Allende Meteorite.  

1 comment:

  1. That is pretty cool, and the fact that it passed a teenagers 'cool test' just reinforces it!