Abrams Planetarium exhibit has pieces of every known meteor to strike Michigan

Posted at 10:25 PM, Jan 05, 2022

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A new exhibit at Michigan State University's Abrams Planetarium features pieces of every known meteorite to strike Michigan, all 11 of them.

The exhibit is meant to prompt Michiganders to think about their own place in the solar system.

“We have a sample from every single one, which we're really proud of," said Shannon Schmoll, director of the Abrams Planetarium.

The meteorites come from all over Michigan: Grand Rapids, Rose City, Allegan, Seneca Township, Washtenaw County, Livingston County, Reed City, Montcalm County, Midland County, Kalkaska County and Iron County.

Schmoll said this exhibit is, in part, meant to make something as large and abstract as space relevant to people right here in Michigan.

“Ultimately, a lot of astronomy is intangible. It's about things that are really far away," she said. "Whereas meteorites are one of the few tangible things that we really have in astronomy. And because these are ones that have been found here in our home state, that gives us that personal connection to help us see how we are directly tied to the solar system through where we live.”

Each meteorite in the collection tells a story, about both Michigan and outer space.

For example, the exhibit features a large meteor from 1939 that flew over Michigan into Ontario, Canada, rattling windows as far south as Lansing.

"It kind of holds a special place," said Craig Whitford, a volunteer meteorite collection coordinator at the planetarium.

In addition to Michigan meteorites, the collection features finds from all over the world.

It even includes a piece of one of the largest meteor strikes in recent memory, the Chelybinsk Oblast Russian fall from Feb, 15, 2013.

But how did a meteorite from Russia get to East Lansing?

Whitford said "meteorite hunters" are key when a meteor strikes.

"These meteorite hunters pick up their airline tickets right away and have a flight," Whitford said. "They probably already have people inside of Russia that they can be with. Or we have probably already collected some stones and purchased them from the locals. And then they enter the market from there for scientific reasons for collectors, for institutions and things like that."

Whitford donated some of his own collection to the exhibit, including the meteorite from Russia, which he obtained from a "meteorite hunters."

Visitors can even touch certain meteorites at the exhibit.

“This allows the opportunity for them to touch a tangible piece of space, because the generation that's coming up now may be the ones that are mining the asteroids in the future, finding the solutions for what's happening here on Earth and this is all part of that science," Whitford said.

The exhibit opened last month, and will become a permanent part of the planetarium.

“This is our own little personal piece of the solar system that we get to appreciate here at the planetarium," Schmoll said.

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