BETHEL — It was something truly out of this world.

Maine Mineral & Gem Museum Director Barbra Barrett, right, pulls down the shroud that hid the moon meteorites just before the formal unveiling ceremony Friday night in Bethel. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The Moon in Maine Lunar Landing Extravaganza held at the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum on Friday evening showed off the largest piece of the moon ever to fall to the Earth, along with other pieces of the moon.

The special event was launched to mark the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong becoming the first man to walk on the moon July 20, 1969.

The five pieces of the moon are part of the larger Stifler Collection of Meteorites housed at the museum at 99 Main St. The Maine Mineral & Gem Museum boasts of the largest collection of moon rocks that fell to Earth and were found in the wild.

“It is such an achievement for Larry (Stifler) to acquire all of these extraordinary, extraterrestrial rocks,” said Barbra Barrett, executive director of museum. “We are so lucky to have this in Bethel. It is even hard to comprehend sometimes.”

The largest collection of moon rocks belongs to NASA and is stored in the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. It is home to 80% of the lunar rocks and dirt samples that weighed 842 pounds and were brought back by astronauts during the six Apollo missions, according to “Inside Earth’s Largest Collection of Moon Rocks” by CBS News.

“The largest one (the astronauts) brought back was 11.7 kilos. The largest one we have is 58 kilos,” Barrett said.

Roughly 150 people crowded into the exhibit Friday to witness the unveiling. The five pieces of the moon all had a base gray color and were peppered with white, but each had a little different coloring.

One was accented by tan and another featured a rust color at the exposed triangle-shaped top.

Larry Stifler, who co-founded the museum with Mary McFadden, said he always has been fascinated with astronomy, astrophysics and the philosophical questions that go hand in hand with these sciences.

“I never get over the thrill of just holding a heavenly neighbor,” he said, as he cupped his hand as if he were holding a chunk of outer space.

“We have one that is probably the oldest rock in the solar system,” he said. “Just think of holding in your hand something else that is older than everything
else in the solar system. It makes you feel how small we are.

The largest pieces of the moon were found in the Sahara Desert, he said.

“It was clearly the largest find in lunar meteorite history. A very large percentage, probably close to 30% of all the known lunar meteorites, were found in this one strewn field, which covered, of course, dozens of square miles,” Stilfer said.

In addition to the moon meteorites, Maine Mineral & Gem Museum in Bethel has an extensive collection of Apollo 11 artifacts, including this hard hat that was signed by every Apollo astronaut. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Exhibits already open to the public include “To the Moon and Back – Celebrating the Apollo Program” and “Meteorites: Rocks from Space,” along with Maine’s pegmatite and non-pegmatite rocks and other minerals from New England.

Jim Holmes made the trip from Jefferson, N.H., for the special event.

“I came over to look at the museum and all of the improvements they made. It’s wonderful,” he said.

The meteorites unveiled Friday were recently registered with the Meteoritical Bulletin Database, Stifler said, and soon will be listed there.

Stifler noted the momentous efforts it took to get these special pieces of the moon to the museum in Bethel.

In addition to the five chunks of the moon, the museum boasts the largest piece of 4 Vesta, an asteroid from which most of the meteorites housed at the museum came, Barrett said.

Stifler noted the museum also has the largest collection of Mars pieces and the largest collections of pallasites, which are essentially gemstones formed inside meteors.

On the second floor just outside the Stifler Collection of Meteorites sits an 800-pound meteorite discovered in Campo del Cielo in Argentina.

“(It’s) just waiting for its time to shine,” Barrett said.


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