Rare specimens provide insights into our solar system’s infancy
In celebration of the arrival of NASA’s Dawn mission to the asteroid Vesta, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) presents the world’s most comprehensive collection of meteorites thought to be from that asteroid. On temporary exhibition in the Vale Gallery of Minerals, inside the Teck Suite of Galleries: Earth’s Treasures, the display houses 30 diverse specimens from Vesta, the second most massive asteroid in our solar system.
“No other public institution in the world has put together such a wide-ranging display of this type of meteorite,” said Dr. Kim Tait, ROM Associate Curator of Mineralogy. “NASA travelled 3.5 billion kilometers to reach Vesta. Our visitors need travel no further than the ROM!”
Launched in 2007, NASA’s Dawn probe is the space agency’s first major mission to study asteroids in detail. The mission focuses on Vesta and Ceres, the two largest known bodies in our solar system’s asteroid belt, located between the planets Mars and Jupiter. Dawn will enter orbit around Vesta in mid July 2011, where it will conduct a one-year study before moving on to Ceres. By taking precise measurements and images of the asteroids, the mission will provide insights into planetary formation and a glimpse into what our early Earth may have been like.
“Unlike Earth’s geology which is constantly evolving, asteroids’ development stopped very early in the process of planetary formation. Vesta is key to understanding our past—it is a snapshot frozen in time of when our solar system was formed over 4.5 billion years ago,” added Tait. “We’re now very keen to conduct research on the ROM’s impressive collection of Vesta meteorite fragments in order to better understand our distant past.”
To complement the Vesta collection, the world’s largest piece of the Springwater pallasite is now on permanent display. This rare meteorite was first discovered near Springwater, Saskatchewan in 1931. However in 2009, upon a re-examination of the original fall site, a significant amount of new material was uncovered, including the ROM’s almost 53-kilogram (117-pound) specimen. There have only been three pallasites ever found within Canada: the Giroux in Manitoba, the Southampton in Ontario and the Springwater in Saskatchewan. The ROM houses all three main masses (or largest pieces) of known Canadian pallasites.
Pallasites most likely represent the core/mantle boundary of an asteroidal body and may be similar to the deepest reaches of our planet. This region of the Earth is inaccessible to researchers, making pallasites science’s best source of tangible information about the Earth’s interior. Out of over 35,000 meteorites known currently worldwide, only 84 pallasites have ever been found.
The Vesta and Springwater meteorites are currently on view in the Vale Gallery of Minerals, inside the Teck Suite of Galleries: Earth’s Treasures.
Teck Suite of Galleries: Earth’s Treasures
The Teck Suite of Galleries: Earth’s Treasures is composed of the Vale Gallery of Minerals, the Gallery of Gems and Gold and the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame Gallery. These galleries occupy a combined total of 6,900 square feet and showcase over 2,300 of the ROM’s exceptional specimens of minerals, gems, meteorites and rocks, a collection among the finest in North America. The fascinating displays are contextualized by over 40 interactive touch-screen stations, compelling video exhibits and engrossing information on Canada’s mining industry.
The Vale Gallery of Minerals, the largest gallery in the Teck Suite, occupies 6,098 square feet and presents the ROM’s exceptional specimens of minerals, meteorites and rocks, exploring such areas as the classification of minerals, their physical and scientific properties, causes of mineral colour and the geological environments necessary for mineral growth. This gallery features the ROM’s renowned meteorite collection, showcasing almost 120 meteorite specimens. Highlights include some of the most impressive meteorites from the Moon and Mars on display anywhere in the world.