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Museum's meteoric move

31 August 2007

The largest meteorite at the Natural History Museum is safely in its new home after a meteoric move this week.

The Cranbourne meteorite is lifted out of the Museum building.

The Cranbourne meteorite is lifted out of the Museum building.

The huge 3.5 tonne meteorite weighs the same as four cars. Its dramatic move was needed to make space for a new mineral gallery space, The Vault, opening on 28 November 2007.

Known as Cranbourne 1, the meteorite was found in Victoria, Australia, in 1854. It is the first time the meteorite has been moved since it was brought to the Museum in the nineteenth century.

The delicate operation

Ten specialist workers took five hours to manoeuvre the meteorite. It was carefully lifted by crane and slotted through a second storey window of the iconic Grade I listed Waterhouse building. It was a tight fit, with only five millimetres to spare.

Moving the 3.5 tonne meteorite was a delicate operation.

Moving the 3.5 tonne meteorite was a delicate operation.

After being carried to the Museum's Exhibition Road entrance and manoeuvred through more windows, the Cranbourne was gently positioned in Earth Today and Tomorrow where it is now on display to the public.

As old as the Earth?

Meteorites are fragments left over when asteroids collide. They come from the asteroid belt, which is found in an area between Mars and Jupiter. The meteorites are around 4.6 billion years old. Scientists study them to try to find out how the Earth and our solar system formed.

The meteorite fitted through windows with five millimetres to spare.

The meteorite fitted through windows with five millimetres to spare.

Dr Caroline Smith, meteorite expert at the Museum says, 'We hold one of the most comprehensive meteorite collections in the world, with material collected from every continent.'

'Our collection is of great scientific importance for comparative studies of meteorites that land all over the world.'

Falling to earth

About 40,000-60,000 tonnes of extraterrestrial material hits the Earth every year, mostly as dust grains the size of sand. Every year about 1,000 meteorites land, ranging in size from a football to a washing machine.

Although it is very rare to see a meteorite land, people often witness meteors as they fall through the sky, which are more commonly known as shooting stars.

Iron meteorite

The Cranbourne meteorite is classified as an iron meteorite and is mostly made up of metallic iron with some nickel content and traces of rare elements.

It hit the Earth on swampy or sandy ground, but it did not leave a big hole like some other meteorites, probably because of the angle at which it came through the Earth's atmosphere.

See the Cranbourne

The Cranbourne now sits in Earth Today and Tomorrow in the Red Zone. It will become the Meteorites gallery in the near future, revealing some of the best examples from one of the world's largest meteorite collections.

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