eleven amazing meteorites (2023)

On July 24, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts returned to Earth with rocks from the lunar surface.

But what if they weren't the most important rocks collected in the 20th century? What if they weren't the most scientifically significant rocks found in 1969?

In September of that year, Professor John Lovering was getting off a plane with samples of lunar rock when a journalist handed him a plastic bag.

Inside was a piece of a meteorite that had just exploded over the northern Victorian town of Murchison.

When John opened the bag, he was hit with an acrid smell, similar to denatured alcohol.

To the geologist, it was the distinctive smell of organic molecules, including amino acids, the building blocks of our DNA.

At the time, John declared it "almost...as exciting as moon dust".

But over the decades, its academic prestige has only increased since that first impression.

Fifty years later, the Victoria Dermot Henry Museums say the harmless-looking, remarkable-smelling black rock is probably the best-studied meteorite in the world today.

The museum has lunar and martian rocks. But Dermot, a man who devoted his life to rocks, ranks the Murchison meteorite as his favorite in the collection.

Because this is a rock that may hold secrets to the formation of the solar system, says Dermot. Its "extraordinarily rare" chemical composition, which gives the meteorite its distinctive smell, may well "provide clues to the origin of life".

And all this from rock fragments collected from cow pastures.

"Studying meteorites is the most economical form of space exploration," says Dermot.

"Samples come to us with meteorites."

The Murchison is just one of many rare and historic space rocks found in the Victoria Museums. Below are 10 more, plus one that disappeared.

The Maryborough Meteorite

The Murchison is the only known meteorite seen and collected in Victoria.

But there were 16 other meteorites recorded in the state. These were often found many years after the crash landing. Of these, the Maryborough is the youngest.

It was found by David Hole in May 2015. The local prospector was looking for gold with a metal detector when he found the 17-pound stone.

David knew he had found something unusual. I just had no idea what the hell it was. Then, as any good handyman would do, he took it back to the shed to sort it out.

David's investigations revealed some puncture marks and odd suspicions, but nothing concrete.

Three years later, still looking for answers, the man from Maryborough took him to the Melbourne Museum.

Dermot and the museum's emeritus curator of Earth Sciences, Bill Birch, used to douse themselves in cold water when they discovered what they called "fake meteorites." But they both knew immediately that this was different.

They then started the scientific identification process and published their work in July 2019.

Read more aboutits 4.6 billion year history here.

The Piick and Rainbow meteors

Few people are lucky enough to accidentally discover a meteorite in their lifetime. Even fewer do it twice. Then there's a whole new category of niches for the likes of Daryl Wedding, wheat farmer from Wimmera.

During the 1994 farming season, Daryl discovered two very different meteorites in the same field. One was named Pigick after the local church, the other Rainbow after the nearest town. Daryl donated both to the museum.

Like Maryborough and Murchison, both Wimmera meteorites are rocky meteorites. But within this type, meteorites are divided into other classes based on the silicates and metallic minerals that compose them. And rainbow "meteor DNA" is exceptionally rare.

It is classified as carbonaceous chondrite CO3: chondrites are among the first physical substances to form in the soup of the early solar system, crystals in which the rocky planets formed billions of years ago.

"Chondrites tell us how the early solar system formed," says Dermot.

"These chondrules likely represent small spherical liquid droplets that condensed from gaseous solar nebulae, then these droplets crystallized.

"These spheres then clump together into small bodies of rock, which snowball and get bigger and bigger until, in some cases, they become planets."

The Cranbourne Meteorite

The first meteorite discovered by Victorian settlers was Cranbourne, although its existence had long been known to the area's first inhabitants.

Colonial records report that the First People "dancing around the meteorite, which was almost completely buried, and hitting it with their stone axes, apparently enthralled by the sound it made".

Though unaware of its supernatural origins, early settlers were also drawn to the strange rock. To promote the area, a horseshoe was made from the iron meteorite in 1854. Enterprising locals wanted a train across Cranbourne, and some have suggested that the meteorite could be an iron ore deposit. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of this alien horseshoe are unknown.

In 1860, an amateur geologist recognized the rock as a meteorite and this discovery made Cranbourne an international sensation. At that time, it was the largest iron meteorite in the world. More of its fragments would be unearthed in the coming decades, with the total weight of its known specimens exceeding 8.5 tons.

The most recent fragment was found near Clyde in 2008 by students at Clyde Primary School.

Read more about the Cranbourne meteorite


Parts of Victoria are littered with black, glassy rocks that take on enigmatic shapes reminiscent of discs, buttons, dumbbells and spatulas.

Over the state's more than 100 years of colonial history, theories have emerged about the origins of strange and alluring rocks. Many thought they formed from Victoria volcanoes, others thought they were an amalgamation of dust and lightning in the atmosphere. Some believed that their origins were extraterrestrial.

We now know that tektites are formed when an asteroid hits Earth and ejects molten material into space, where it cools rapidly and falls back to Earth. When it re-enters the atmosphere, its exterior merges and transforms into various forms.

"Tektite is an impact-resistant form of glass," says Dermot.

The asteroid that created the Victoria tektites remains a mystery, but it likely hit somewhere in present-day Cambodia and the impact zone would have been very large, perhaps over 1 kilometer wide.

The tektites would have fallen over Southeast Asia and Australia in a single event, like a "hail of glass", says Dermot, with the best-preserved bulges and shapes along the coast of Port Campbell.

"NASA was interested because the buttons must have been stable during re-entry," says Dermot.

"They used the mold to model the re-entry heat shields for the Apollo return modules."

While not really meteorites, there wouldn't be tektites without space rocks.

the mond meteorite

The museum has a moon rock, but it was not collected by astronauts. He came to Earth voluntarily. This lunar meteorite has a history similar to that of tektites.

"The moon has been massively bombarded by large and small meteorites for 3.5 billion years," says Dermot.

"And there's no atmosphere there to slow it down or burn it up, so everything just crashes into the moon's surface."

Fragments of the moon are then ejected from the surface, and the moon's weakened gravitational pull means they are hardly slowed down on their upward trajectory. If the meteorite is big enough, moon rocks can be hurled at the Earth's surface.

Many look like rocks on earth. But like the museum rock, a piece of volcanic basalt often makes an important gift.

"It's about 3.3 billion years old, but when you look at it, the rock is as fresh as what you would see in a recent lava flow in Hawaii," says Dermot.

"There is no weathering on the moon."

It is believed to have spent 80 million years in orbit before crashing to Earth.

The museum has a moon rock on loan from the Apollo mission.

meteorites from mars

The museum has five Martian rocks that have a formation history almost identical to that of the moon rock.

The difference is that Mars has a strong gravitational pull and is much farther away.

So it takes a very large meteorite to blast Martian chunks to Earth; Therefore, Martian meteorites are much rarer.

Der Esquel-Meteorite

Most of the meteorite samples in the MV Collection were collected in Victoria. And not all of them have a purely scientific value. Some also turn out to be absolutely beautiful.

A rare pallasite of iron and stone, the Esquel Meteorite, found in Argentina in the 1950s, is one of the most beautiful meteorites in the world. Museos Victoria has a handful of specimens from Esquel.

Esquel is beautiful, says Dermot.

The olivine crystals it contains are of gem quality.

Olive is known as the birthstone peridot. Esquel Jewels would have commemorated this milestone over 4.5 billion times.

There is Bencubbin Meteorite

For a geologist, a meteorite is not just a conglomeration of minerals, but a story. Few tell a story as dramatic as the Bencubbin meteorite. According to a popular theory, it is the story of a high-speed interstellar collision frozen in time.

"They look like big black rocks stuck in metal," says Dermot.

"Basically, people think that what is now Bencubbin were two asteroids of very different compositions that collided and broke apart.

"With this huge release of heat and energy, all these parts collapsed again and formed a mixture of both.

"So the chunks of carbonaceous chondrite material, similar to Murchison, while the metal is the iron core of a large asteroid."

Found in Western Australia, bencubbin is so unique that it forms a category of meteorites called bencubbinite.

The museum has a sample of the Bencubbin meteorite.

The Wedderburn Meteorite

Some meteorites not only look different from rocks on Earth, but also contain strange minerals.

The Wedderburn meteorite was discovered in 1951, but it wasn't until decades later that it was known to contain a new iron carbide mineral called edscottite, or Fe.5C2.

The mineral is believed to have been forged in the molten core of a long-destroyed ancient asteroid and then spread throughout the solar system.

But since the Wedderburn meteorite is the size of a lemon and is the only known source of Fe5C2, is possibly the rarest mineral in the world.

Read more about the Wedderburn Meteorite

or lost meteor

Of the three main types of meteorites, rocky meteorites are by far the rarest. Of Victoria's 17 known meteorites, only one falls into this group.

The Bendoc meteorite is believed to have been discovered by prospectors in East Gippsland in 1898. As it was close to the border, it was sent to the New South Wales Department of Mines for examination and was described in 1902 as a stony iron pallasite.

Unfortunately it will be colder there. If it was preserved, nobody knows where it is.

Read more about the extraordinary history of the Murchison meteorite

Confira a palestra do MV de Dermot: Stardust Memoirs: 50 Years of the Murchison Meteorite.

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