Royal Ontario Museum Acquires World’s Largest Mass of Rare Meteorite

4.5 billion-year-old pallasite could be the key to unravelling the origins of our solar system

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) has acquired the world’s largest piece of the Springwater pallasite, a rare and scientifically important meteorite that was first discovered near Springwater, Saskatchewan in 1931. The new discovery of the almost 53 kilogram (117 pound), 4.5-billion-year-old specimen was made in 2009 after a re-examination of the original fall site. There have only been three pallasite meteorites ever found within Canada: the Giroux in Manitoba, the Southampton in Ontario and the Springwater in Saskatchewan. With the addition of this acquisition, the ROM now houses all three main masses of known Canadian pallasite meteorites

“Pallasite meteorites provide scientists the unique opportunity to look billions of years into the past and examine material similar to what we infer is deep within our Earth,” says Dr. Kim Tait, ROM Associate Curator of Mineralogy. “They’re invaluable research tools. The Springwater pallasite meteorite is the most important and largest of its kind ever found in Canada and is therefore a significant addition to our already impressive collection of meteorites.”

Pallasites are mostly composed of roughly equal amounts of an iron-nickel alloy matrix and a green-brown-coloured silicate mineral olivine. They once formed part of larger asteroids that were likely created 4.5 billion years ago by the same processes and from the same materials as the other planetary bodies in our solar system. Unlike most meteorites that eventually fall to Earth, pallasites represent very deep regions of asteroids, making their mineral composition very similar to the core/mantle boundary of our own planet. This region of the Earth is inaccessible to researchers therefore pallasites are science’s best source of information about the depths of our planet and on the history of the solar system.

Pallasites are extremely rare. Out of the over 35,000 meteorites known currently worldwide, only 84 are presently recognized as pallasites. Three masses of the Springwater pallasite meteorite were originally found in 1931, near the town of Springwater, Saskatchewan. At the time, the largest mass, weighing 20 kilograms (44 pounds), was acquired by the Natural History Museum in London, England. In 2009, a team returned to the site and successfully recovered 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of new material.

The meteorite is currently being put through a number of tests to enable scientists to gain a better understanding of pallasites in general and their relation to other varieties of meteorites. The meteorite will eventually be on display in the Vale Inco Limited Gallery of Minerals, inside the Teck Suite of Galleries: Earth’s Treasures.

Teck Suite of Galleries: Earth’s Treasures

The Teck Suite of Galleries is composed of the Vale Inco Limited Gallery of Minerals, the Gallery of Gems and Gold and the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame Gallery, the 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 Inco Limited 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.

Image: Pallasite meteorite (from the Esquel fall) on display in the Vale Inco Limited Gallery of Minerals at the Royal Ontario Museum.

www.rom.on.ca

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