Meteorite Collection

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The Vatican Observatory Meteorite Collection.

The Vatican Observatory Meteorite collection is one of the major meteorite collections in the world, with over 1100 samples of more than 500 different falls, representing nearly 150 kg of extraterrestrial material.
 

 

How did our collection come to be?

The meteorite collection at the Vatican exists today thanks to the efforts of Adrien-Charles, Marquis de Mauroy (1848-1927). This French nobleman was a distinguished agronomist and gentleman-scientist, a life member of the Société Française de Minéralogie who served three terms as its vice president. His collection of minerals was famous throughout Europe, and his meteorite collection was said to have been the second largest private collection in the world. He was a great supporter of schools and scientific institutions; for instance, Czar Nicholas II awarded him the insignia of a Commander of St. Stanislas for his donation of meteorites to the Institute of Mines in Russia.

A great friend of the Church, the Marquis hoped to found a Museum of Natural History at the Vatican. To that end, he first proposed in 1896 to donate a collection of 1800 rocks and minerals, and a library of some 400 books and monographs about them, to the Vatican.

In 1907, a subset of the de Mauroy meteorite collection —104 pieces, mostly duplicates and smaller samples — was donated by the Marquis. Another 50 meteorite samples were added in 1912.

The Marquis died in 1927; in 1935, his widow Marie Caroline Eugénie donated all but the very largest pieces of his meteorite and mineral collection to the Vatican. This donation consisted of a thousand pieces sampling more than 400 different meteorite falls, plus a comparably large number of terrestrial minerals.

In the years following the Mauroy bequest, the collection has grown slowly by gifts and trades. Today a computerized database keeps track of new donations and samples out on loan. As much as can be determined of the history of each piece, including loans and non-destructive experiments, is detailed in the database.

What kind of experiments do we do with our meteorites?

The meteorites in our collection have been used in a series of experiments to measure their chemical and physical nature. Currently, the main research done in the meteorite laboratory is a survey of meteorite physical properties including density, porosity, magnetic susceptibility, heat capacity, and thermal conductivity. Our density measurements, when compared with the density of asteroids, has led to detailed quantitative models of asteroid interior structure, and our density measurement techniques have become the standard for the scientific community.

Why does the Vatican have meteorites?

Besides our own experiments, this collection has become an important source of extraterrestrial material for scientific colleagues around the world. But perhaps more importantly, we use these samples to see deeper into the mysteries of creation; in this way, it is our hope that, echoing the thoughts of St. Paul, St. Athanasius, and St. Augustine, we in the Church study creation so that we may come to know more deeply the Heart of the Creator.

 

More information.

If you need more information about our meteorite collection, please contact Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J., the curator of the meteorite collection of the Vatican Observatory.