Meteorite Collection


The MGMH holds a large and broadly representative collection of meteorites. Meteorites are extraordinary things. No other object that you can hold in your hand is as exotic or as old. Meteorites are rocks that most commonly originate from the Asteroid Belt. Rocks blasted off parent bodies by an impact or collision will orbit the Sun just as the planets do. Some small fraction of these orbiting rocks cross the Earth's orbit and, coming under the influence of Earth's gravity, fall into our atmosphere. There, momentarily glowing due to friction, they become "shooting stars" or meteors. If they survive their fiery descent to Earth, they are meteorites. Click here to find answers to frequently asked questions about meteorites.

The meteorite collection includes nearly 600 distinct meteorites and about 1,500 specimens ranging from <0.1 g to ~180 kg. It includes the collections of J. Lawrence Smith, a famous 19th century American chemist, and Q. David Bowers, a contemporary collector particularly enthusiastic about pallasites. 

Geographic Visualization

In 2012, the meteorite collection was geo-visualized using ArcGIS and WorldMap. The interactive map contains name, classification, location, and fall/find information for each meteorite in the Harvard collection. The map consists of multiple layers so that the user can explore the entire museum collection or can search the collection by meteorite type. To access and explore the map of the meteorite collection click here.  

Exhibits

In December of 2005, a new meteorite exhibit was installed in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Gallery at the Harvard Museum of Natural History showcasing a fine selection of meteorites. The exhibit displays about 40 meteorites and includes significant specimens such as large touchable iron meteorites, exceptional pallasites, and other rare meteorites donated by Q. David Bowers and Don Edwards. It also features Impact!, an original video presentation based on the research of Earth and Planetary Science professors at Harvard University.     

The Meteorite Collection

The meteorite collection was initially assembled by Josiah P. Cook, Erving Professor of Chemistry and Mineralogy from 1850 until 1894. The meteorite collection was firmly established with the purchase of the J. Lawrence Smith Collection in October of 1883. Professor J.E. Wolff, curator from 1894 until 1922, further expanded the collection by contributing many specimens that were purchased with his own funds.

The Albert F. Holden bequest, received in 1922, has permitted regular purchases of meteorites, several of which were described by Professor Charles Palache, curator from 1922 until 1946. Acquisitions continued under the stewardship of Professor and Curator Clifford Frondel until 1977. The use of the meteorite collection for research both at and beyond Harvard University reached unprecedented levels during this period. The numerous scientific contributions resulting from study of the meteorite collection was made possible by the generous loan policy of Professor Frondel. 

The growth of the collection has been documented by four catalogues (Huntington, 1887; Palache, 1926; Frondel, 1965 and C.A Francis, 1978). At the present time, the collection consists of approximately 1,500 specimens. The collection is primarily maintained to support research at Harvard, but specimens will be provided to qualified investigators otherwise affiliated. Requests should be directed to Museum staff.

The Impactite Collection 

Large meteorite impacts produce shock effects—metamorphism and even melting of target rocks. Brecciated rocks, tektites, shattercones, and other structures that result from these events are known as impactites. The museum holds a small ancillary collection of impactites.