An old article about my collection of minerals, fossils and meteorites

Introduction

This article was written in 1996 for a school newspaper. Some things have changed a lot since then. Below is the original article, quoted without any modifications which would bring it up to date.

The original article

My collection of minerals, fossils and meteorites

Rocks, especially those of extraterrestrial origin, have been interesting people for thousands of years. They were often the symbols of gods. A meteorite that fell several years ago in Indonesia became an object of cult right away, before it was confiscated by the police. Meteorites have also been used (especially by the Eskimos) as a good source of iron (the iron meteorites contain more iron than any terrestrial ore) for making tools and weapons such as axes and knives. Before the arrival of Europeans they were the only source of iron known to them.

Meteorites are sometimes very hard to differentiate from terrestrial rocks. A farmer in Mexico had been using a bowl-shaped meteorite as a bowl for his dog for over 20 years, until it was recognized as a meteorite and bought from him by a collector. Sometimes even small pieces of jewellery are made from meteorites (earrings, watches, etc) but they are quite expensive. Meteorites themselves are quite expensive, too, their prices vary from 1 to several dozen dollars (for example some very rare SNC meteorites, which come from Mars) per gram, so that a 3kg piece (an average size of a single stone) may cost several thousand dollars. Because of such prices very few collectors can afford big meteorites, and so most meteorites that are for sale for single collectors are cut into smaller parts. The names of these parts are like names of parts of a loaf of bread cut into pieces: slices, partslices (slices cut into yet smaller pieces) and endpieces. The flat surfaces of those pieces are usually polished, so that one can see the internal structure of the meteorite. In my collection (7 meteorite specimens and one tektite) I have only two complete specimens (63 and 13.2 gram), one endpiece and three slices and also some pieces of irregular shape. My biggest specimen is a 63 gram indochinite (a kind of tektite). The two next largest specimens are iron meteorites. What's very typical for this kind of meteorite is the Windmanstätten pattern. This is a pattern that can be created on a flat surface of an octahedrite (a kind of iron meteorites) by digesting it with an acid (this process is called "etching a meteorite"). This kind of meteorite is built up from camacite (a kind of a mineral) crystals "suspended" in the nickel-iron body of the meteorite. Camacite is easier to digest by the acid and so the places where camacite is are digested more than the places where only nickel-iron (a "mineral" made from nickel and iron mixed together) is present. This way a pattern of whitish-grey bars (this is where the camacite crystals were) on a darker background (nickel-iron) is formed. It looks very attractive, especially when lighted by colored light. There is however a problem with collecting iron meteorites - they rust, and so must be kept in tightly closed plastic sacks or bottles (I use transparent sacks, because this way I can see the meteorite without taking it out of its bag), so that they don't have contact with air and water steam. This problem touches mainly iron meteorites, but stone and stony-iron meteorites also contain small amounts of iron and after some time might rust a bit, too. They are more like terrestrial rocks, but have also properties which lead to distinguish them from rocks, like the fact, that all meteorites : iron, stone and stony-iron attract a magnet and can also be detected with a metal-detector. The stone meteorites are divided into two main groups : chondrites and achondrites. Chondrites contain chondrules (from greek chondros - grain) - small, spherical grains of different minerals, achondrites don't.

There are, however, some "anomalous" achondrites that contain chondrules and "anomalous" chondrites, which don't contain them, anyhow their classification system is quite complicated. Probably the most beautiful stony-irons are pallasites, made of olivine (a transparent-orange mineral) crystals suspended in greyish nickel-iron. The olivine crystals are sometimes several centimeters wide, and the meteorite looks beautiful if it is cut into thin slices and placed in the way of a light-beam. I have one of these in my collection, too. Yet, there are some meteorites which don't fit into any of these groups and can't be classified within the currently used system of classification and are known as anomalous meteorites.

Meteorites are named after the place where they fell. Many meteorites, however, are found in places such as deserts (for example the Nullarbor Plain in Australia or some snow-deserts of Antarctica), where there are very few places that have their names, because villages might be hundreds of kilometers from one another. In such case, the whole area is given a name and is divided into equal squares, which are given numbers. This way if a meteorite is found inside the square 1234 in Antarctica, its name will be "Antarctica 1234". In my collection there is only one meteorite with such a name: "Reggane 003" (Reggane is a region of the Sahara desert in Africa).

I started collecting meteorites six years ago when I was visiting Frombork (this is where Copernicus spent a big part of his life) and the planetarium there. I bought my first meteorite then, and joined a club of meteorite collectors. The club is associated with a similar association in Britain, and many members, including me are also associate-members of the Society of Meteoritophiles. The Polish club isn't very big (about 25 members), but it publishes a meteorite-newspaper. This paper often contains some articles from the paper called Meteorite!. I have translated several of them (from English to Polish), for what I got some of my best meteorite specimens, as a reward. In the French town of Ensisheim a several-dozen-kilogram stone meteorite (it fell in 1492) is preserved. I have once been there to see it, but unfortunately the exhibition was closed.

My collection of rocks, minerals and fossils is much larger than that of meteorites and contains about 950 specimens. Most of them were found by me or my family during trips to the mountains or to mines and quarries. I sometimes also buy specimens, sometimes I get some from my friends, if they find something interesting. There have been two mineral & fossil fairs in Lublin, where I live, and I bought many fine specimens there. I don't do a lot of exchange, because I don't know many other collectors. I t is not easy to organize a collection of rocks and minerals. It is not a big problem with a collection of 100 specimens, but when the collection contains 1000 specimens, it's impossible to remember everything. I solved the problem by giving each specimen a number and sticking a small label with this number to it. A computer database contains all the information about all the specimens. For each specimen it includes : its name, the place and date when it was found and a special code which tells me on which shelf the specimen is situated, so that I can find it quickly whenever I want. I can also search for the specimen if I don't know its number, list all the specimens in my collection, which were found in one place, etc. Most specimens require some treatment, before I can include them into the collection. For many, a simple wash with water and soap is enough, but some fossils are covered with a layer of rock, which should be removed to make the fossil better visible. I do it with a special needle, which allows me to remove small particles of rock very accurately. With washing I must be very careful, because some fossils must not be washed, or they might become destroyed. Sometimes preparing a fossil to be exhibited is a lot of work and takes several hours, especially if the fossil is fragile, but it is fun, too. Many fossils are so fragile that they can't be removed from the rock, or they will break into pieces. Such fossils are removed from the rock only partially, as a kind of a relief.

Besides collecting, I also try to learn as much as possible about my specimens, so I collect books, articles and other things referring to fossils, minerals and meteorites. This lets me learn how to recognize and identify specimens myself. Sometimes, however, a specimen is so hard to recognize that even my grandmother, who is a professional geologist, can't identify it.


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