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BIMS Manchester Museum visit

To see all photos of our visit please see here

On Thursday 18th February 2010, four BIMS members met up at the Manchester Museum for a behind the scenes visit of their meteorite collection.  The visit had been arranged by BIMS member David Entwistle who had been in contact with the mineralogy curator – Dr. David Green. The Manchester Museum forms part of Manchester University and sits geographically at the heart of the campus on Oxford Road in central Manchester. The museum has extensive and varied collections ranging from butterflies to fossils to live animals and of course meteorites!  The museum is probably best known for it’s Egyptology department which houses one of the largest and most important collections of ancient Egyptian artefacts in the UK.  And of course no visit would be complete without seeing the museums very own ‘Stan’ T-Rex skeleton 🙂

The museum's main attraction, a cast of 'Stan' the T-Rex
The museum’s main attraction, a cast of ‘Stan’ the famous T-Rex skeleton.

I arrived first and met David Entwistle for the first time in person. It’s always good to extend online friendships into the real world and put a face to the name 🙂 We were soon joined by Matt Smith and Graham Ensor and we were all given a warm welcome by Dr. David Green before moving on to the public meteorite gallery.

The public meteorite display (this photo was taken during a later visit with my daughter Phoebe)
The public meteorite display (this photo was taken during a later visit with my daughter Phoebe)

The public meteorite gallery is situated on a mezzanine floor overlooking the space gallery and houses some impressive specimens. The largest of these was the main mass of the Egyptian fall Sinai weighing 1.2kg and also a good chunk of Appley Bridge.  Appley Bridge is the meteorite fall that is closest to the museum and the specimen on display was acquired from the NHM London. Dr. Green made us laugh by describing the specimen on display as small! I would guess it’s weight to be around the 150 gram mark which is a sizeable chunk in anyones book. The museum also has a cast of the complete Appley Bridge stone. Other meteorites on display here included Millbillie, Bjurbole, Monze, Canyon Diablo, Turtle River, Odessa and Toluca amongst others.

The Appley Bridge specimen in the public display cabinet.
The Appley Bridge specimen in the public display cabinet.

We were then taken to see the parts of the museum’s collection that is normally kept behind closed doors and not on permanent display. Before leaving the public display gallery Dr. Green opened up the display cabinet and removed the Appley Bridge specimen so that we could examine and photograph it in better light later on. It’s fair to say that we were all surprised at the number of specimens kept behind the scenes at the museum. A large number of these specimens were bequeathed to the museum by Howard J Axon after his death in 1992. Howard J Axon worked at Manchester University and studied metallurgy,  researching the nickel iron parts of meteorites, publishing numerous papers during his career. The mineral Haxonite was also named after him in 1971. One of his areas of research was how heat affected the widmanstatten structure of iron meteorites. Using pieces of Canyon Diablo and other meteorites sealed in silica blocks that were then heated to different temperatures and pressures he aimed to show how these extremes affected their crystal structure.

Someone else who had a number of their specimens represented in the collection was David Forbes (1828-1876) a British mineral collector whose collection of specimens and books were bought by the museum after his death. Amongst those specimens were three small Pultusk stones accompanied by Forbes’ original handwritten label. We all noted the amazing freshness of appearance of these specimens that looked as if they had been picked up off the ground that morning! Also originating from the Forbes collection was a 51 gram part slice of the 1860 Iron meteorite find La Grange. The original find was made by a Mr. Daring in Oldham County, Kentucky, USA and was later acquired by J Lawrence Smith who cut and distributed pieces all over. It is unknown exactly how Forbes acquired his slice. The main mass of 36.3kg resides at Arizona State University.

One of the meteorite storage drawers that we pored over during our visit. (copyright - Matt Smith)
One of the meteorite storage drawers that we pored over during our visit. You can see some of Howard Axon’s heat treated samples in the bottom left of the drawer. (copyright – Matt Smith)

We were surprised to see quite a number of historic Nininger specimens that included Densmore, Grassland, Brownfield, Loop, Armel, Dresden, Plains, Roy, Tell, Calliham and more. All of these pieces were accompanied by American Meteorite Laboratory (AML) labels.

Dr Green had obviously spent a considerable amount of time cataloguing and labeling the specimens in the collection but there was one particular specimen that he hadn’t been able to identify, a lovely complete fusion crusted individual that still needed some detective work in order to identify it. Hopefully this will prove to be a specimen from a historic fall and Dr. Green assured us that he believed that this particular meteoritic mystery would soon be solved using the museums extensive record archives.

All in all we had a great day at the museum and very much appreciated Dr. David Green’s expertise and hospitality. This visit proved to be the first of many for me as I live relatively locally. It also paved the way for BIMS to put on our own display at the museum during Science week in October 2012 (see link below)

To see all photos of our visit please see here


BIMS stand at ‘Meteorite day’ at the Manchester Museum

The Manchester Museum

BIMS article on Manchester Museum visit by Matt Smith