Regine Petersen’s Meteorite Photography, Space Rock Display, and Unveiling of Omani Falaj Oasis Exhibit Highlight Biosphere 2′s Earth Day Celebration on SaturdayFriday, April 20th, 2012
On Saturday, April 21, Biosphere 2, described as “one of the fifty must-see wonders of the world,” will host an Earth Day celebration in association with the University of Arizona’s School of Music. Billed as “music, science, food, and fun for the whole family,” the event will present a number of vendors including my company, Aerolite Meteorites, with a display of genuine space rocks. On view will be our customized expedition vehicle, known as The Mule, which is featured in my television series Meteorite Men. Biosphere 2 will also unveil the new Omani Falaj Indoor and Outdoor Water Oasis Exhibits.
Of special interest during the Earth Day celebrations is the opening of a new exhibition featuring fine art photographs of meteorites by noted German photographer Regine Petersen.
Meteorites are among the rarest and most remarkable materials on earth. They are fragments of iron and stone that have fallen to our planet from space. Most originated within the Asteroid Belt, between Mars and Jupiter, but a few have come to us from Mars and our own moon. The word “meteorite” is often confused with the word “meteor”; the latter describes the atmospheric phenomenon also known as a shooting star, while the former is the term for a solid extraterrestrial mass that lands upon the surface of our world.
Meteorites are divided into three main groups. The most abundant are stones, and they are likely the remnants of the crust or mantle of asteroids. Less common are irons, which probably once formed part of the molten core of a large asteroid. Most uncommon are the stony-irons: an amalgam of iron and silicates that sometimes contain beautiful, green olivine crystals, also known as the gemstone peridot.
The oldest recorded meteorite fall is generally accepted as Ensisheim, a large celestial stone that landed in Alsace, France in 1492. The church’s official position on meteorites, at the time, was that they did not exist: God created the Heavens and if stones fell from there then the Heavens, and God’s handiwork, were imperfect. That would be blasphemy, so meteorites had to come from somewhere else. An early theory suggested that they were, somehow, formed during thunderstorms, and “thunderstones” is an archaic term for space rocks. In 1803, near the small town of l’Aigle—also in France—thousands of stone meteorites rained down, in the daytime, upon fields and houses, and were witnessed by so many individuals that it was no longer reasonable or possible to deny their existence.
Although Ensisheim may be the oldest fall described in written records, ancient humans were well aware that strange things periodically fell from the sky. Aboriginal myths indicate that native peoples in Australia may have seen the massive meteorite impact that formed the Henbury Craters in the Northern Territories, some 4,600 years ago. In the indigenous Aranda dialect, the area is known as Chindu chinna waru chingi yabu, which approximates, in English, to “sun walk fire devil rock.” In 1928 archeologists discovered a meteorite, wrapped in a burial shroud inside stone cist, near the prehistoric Elden Pueblo in Arizona. The circumstances of the find suggest that Native Americans witnessed the stone’s descent and gave it a ceremonial burial believing, perhaps, that the meteorite was a fallen sky god.
In the modern era, meteorites have been studied by NASA scientists while designing heat shields for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft, as well as the Space Shuttle, and astronomers and cosmologists dissect and examine meteorites for clues to the origin and makeup of our own solar system and, by extension, the universe.
While space rocks have enthralled, inspired, and puzzled us for centuries they have remained primarily within the domain of academic research and study. In her new exhibition at Biosphere 2, photographer Regine Petersen casts a thoughtful and artistic eye over these extraordinary travelers from space, and the people who have collected and studied them. While the arcane knowledge contained in meteorites may best be understood by chemists and meteoriticists, the other-wordly beauty of their shapes, colors, and surface features—formed as they literally melted while flying through out atmosphere—make for the most fascinating and mysterious of still life images.
Carbonaceous chondrites, a rare type of carbon-rich meteorite, sometimes contain micro diamonds—ghostly debris of ancient stars that appear to predate our own sun. Some researchers believe these microscopic remnants from the earliest days of the universe may be twelve billion years old. Other theorists speculate that meteorites could have carried water, carbon, salt and other materials to our planet, millions of years ago, thereby helping to form an environment in which life could evolve. If there is any truth to this hypothesis, then one could argue that we humans are all the descendants of rocks from space.
Earth Day at Biosphere 2 runs from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 21. Please contact Hassan Hijazi at (520) 626 5888 for further information.