Inside a third-floor room of UCLA’s Geology Building, you’ll find a display of more than 100 meteorites.
If you’ve ever wanted to gaze upon an item that arrived on Earth after a journey through outer space, then you’ll be happy to learn that within the boundaries of Los Angeles, there’s a place to see a whole collection of artifacts of other-worldly wonder.
This amazing spot is the UCLA Meteorite Gallery. Although it’s a relatively small room on the UCLA campus, it’s where the geology department has hundreds of meteorites on display.
The UCLA Meteorite Gallery is on the third floor of the university’s Geology Building. Just take the elevator up and walk across the hall to room 3697.
The Large Meteorites
Upon entering the UCLA Meteorite Gallery, the first meteorites you will likely take notice of sit in the center of the room.
There are three of these, and they’re good-sized chunks of space rock. Sitting by itself on a pedestal is the Canyon Diablo. It’s L.A.’s oldest meteorite, gifted to UCLA in 1934 by William Andrews Clark, Jr., the founder of the L.A. Philharmonic (and who the Beethoven Statue in Pershing Square honors). It’s part of the larger meteor that struck the Earth 50,000 years ago and formed Meteor Crater in Arizona. It weighs 357 pounds (162 kg).
Two other large meteorites sit adjacent to the Canyon Diablo — the 811-pound (368 kg) Gibeon Iron meteorite and the 326-pound (148 kg) Camp Wood Iron meteorite. Both of these are on loan to UCLA by the Utas family, curators of the largest private meteorite collections in the world.
The Gibeon meteorite is one of the most famous in the world. It fell in Namibia, and the indigenous Nama people used it to make weapons and tools. The Western world became aware of it in 1836 when an Englishman named J. E. Alexander came across it and sent pieces back to London for examination. After this, it was split into more than 30 fragments and scattered about the globe. This is one of those fragments, and there are two other Gibeon portions on display in the Gallery.
The Camp Wood meteorite was found by a hunter in Texas in 1968. He used it as a doorstop until it was sold to the Utas family in 2007.
Along the wall behind these central meteorites, you’ll find see three more large specimens.
- The Doheny Iron meteorite, found by Russell Thomas in 2017 next to the swimming pool at Mount Saint Mary’s University (once the mansion of Edward Doheny) in Downtown Los Angeles.
- The Ovshinsky Iron meteorite, another piece of Canyon Diablo that was once owned by Stanford Ovshinsky (inventor of the nickel-metal hydride rechargeable battery).
- A thin slab from the Old Woman Meteorite found in the Mojave Desert’s Old Woman Mountains in 1975. It’s the largest meteorite found in California.
Cases Filled With Meteorites!
In addition to the large meteorites, the small room includes eight display cases filled with smaller meteorites from all over the world. These cases are organized by category showcasing meteorites by composition, location, and the effects of meteorite impact. Each case offers numerous examples with citations and descriptive text for each specimen.
Case Four, titled “Impact Effects,” holds the newest find of the collection, a lemon-sized meteorite that fell in Cuba’s Viñales Valley on February 1, 2019.
Case Five holds a collection of tektites, which aren’t meteorites. Rather, these are interesting geological formations (“terrestrial sediments” in geology parlance) that happen in the wake of a meteorite’s impact. There’s often so much heat and pressure involved when a meteorite strikes a surface that sand can melt into glass.
The inside of Case Three holds chunks from some of the oldest meteorites ever found, part of the Schlazer Collection (after Ted Schlazer, a Wall Street bond trader) that was donated to UCLA in 2013. These are mostly iron meteorites, so the case is kept at 1% humidity to keep oxidation from occurring.
The case included a cross-sectional chunk of the Gibeon Meteorite mentioned above, showcasing the exquisite Widmanstätten pattern, a result of the growth of two different iron-nickel minerals.
Case Three also contains the oldest meteorite in the collection, Campo del Cielo, found in Argentina in 1576.
One of the most interesting displays in the UCLA Meteorite Collection is on display in Case Seven. This case holds what UCLA humorously refers to as “meteor-wrongs.” Apparently the good folks at the UCLA Geology Department receive several would-be meteorites each week. Many of these rock chunks, while unusual in their own right, are simply rocks of terrestrial origin. Such examples include copper ore, petrified wood, iron slag, basalt, and volcanic scoria.
My favorite displayed meteor-wrong is a chunk of “Manganese Spherules in Green Silicate Glass” that resulted from a man-made phenomenon. According to the accompanying placard, this sample was manufactured by Union Carbide and dumped into Lake Erie. It was found by a couple of divers in the 1990s who then marketed it as a rare “Emerald Meteorite.” Even after this claim was thoroughly debunked, the gentlemen in question refused to concede to scientific authority. That aside, it’s a very interesting rock.
Of course there’s a whole case devoted to meteorites found in California, featuring some that turned up right here in Los Angeles.
There’s no cost to visit the UCLA Meteorite Gallery. It’s open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day of the week. It’s closed on Saturday and Sunday. So if you’ve ever wanted to see an actual object from outer space, then this is your chance.
The hardest part about visiting the UCLA Meteorite Gallery is finding parking on the campus. Fortunately, the Geology building is right across the street from Visitor Parking Garage 2, which offers visitor parking by the hour or by the day.
UCLA Meteorite Gallery
- 595 Charles E Young Dr E, UCLA, Geology Building, Room 3697
- GPS Coordinates: 34.069219, -118.440520 [ Google Maps ]
- what3words: ///charge.milky.wider
- Learn more: UCLA Meteorite Collection
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