Michigan meteorites take center stage in new Abrams Planetarium exhibit

January 2, 2022

Standing next to ancient rocks that have fallen from space to Earth, Shannon Schmoll, director of the Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University in East Lansing, got excited as she spoke about the new exhibit “Asteroids, Meteors and Meteorites Oh MI” .

“A lot of people love astronomy and space, but we don’t have a lot of tangible objects, unlike history or biology,” Schmoll said. “These meteorites are tangible things that people can see and connect with. It’s really, really cool.”

The permanent exhibit, which debuted earlier this month, features meteorites that have landed around the world, from Michigan to Russia. Native to the interior of the solar system, meteorites are usually fragments of asteroids that separated long ago in what is called the “asteroid belt” between Mars and Jupiter. These fragments then revolve around the sun for long periods – often millions of years – before colliding with Earth. Scientists have long relied on meteorites for information about the history of the solar system, and they help the public understand the start of the solar system and how the planets were formed.

“Meteorites are sort of the fossils of the solar system,” said Schmoll, a black hole expert who has been director of the Abrams Planetarium since 2014. “These are the literal building blocks from which the solar system was built.”

As part of the exhibit, visitors can touch pieces of the moon and Mars that have ended up on Earth and see meteorites that have landed all over Michigan, including Grand Rapids, Hamburg, Iron City, Allegan, Seneca Township and elsewhere, explained Schmoll. . There are also interactive learning opportunities for people to connect to space in a way the planetarium director said she hopes will make them feel more connected to our solar system.

“I think what makes them so fascinating are these things in space, something that is inaccessible to so many people,” Schmoll said. “So to drop something to Earth that’s from another part of the solar system – it’s the closest to space a lot of people will ever get. That alone is really cool.”

Funded by a nearly $ 100,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences and a $ 15,000 grant from the Dart Foundation, the meteorites in the exhibit are part of a long-standing planetarium collection that does not has not been seen by the public for decades.

“We have had a collection of meteorites since the late 1960s,” Schmoll said. “We had meteorites on display in our hall more or less since the planetarium started. About 27 years ago they were taken out of the exhibit and put away. When I started this work and someone said that we had a meteorite collection, I was like, ‘Wow, this is really exciting.’ “

Now that the exhibit is open to the public, Schmoll hopes it will “spark an interest in science” in children – and everyone.

“In the teaching of astronomy, there is the hope that we realize that we are all on this planet together, and we are one world in a much larger universe,” she said. “There is hope that if we can recognize it, maybe we can get to a point where we can all work together.”

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Arline J. Mercier