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Lot 28W
Brenham Main Mass — The World’s Largest Oriented Meteorite With Extraterrestrial Gems
US$ 630,000 - 700,000
£ 450,000 - 500,000

Lot Details
Brenham Main Mass — The World’s Largest Oriented Meteorite With Extraterrestrial Gems
Stony iron—PAL
Kiowa County, Kansas

This is a matchless example of an oriented meteorite. Discovered outside of Greensburg, Kansas in 2005, scientists have referred to this offering as the most significant American meteorite discovery in decades. Dr. Denton S. Ebel, Curator of Meteorites at the American Museum of Natural History, stated that the value of this meteorite is in excess of one million dollars.

The pedigree of this meteorite is highly distinguished; it is the largest oriented meteorite with naturally-occurring gemstones—olivine and peridot—known to exist. This is a pallasitic meteorite (see lots 46 and 48)—a group representing less than 1% of all meteorites. This is the largest pallasite found in North America and is also the largest intact pallasite in the world, yet it is the orientation of this specimen for which it is most renowned.

As evidenced by its shape, this meteorite—unlike most—did not tumble or change its vertical axis as it plunged through Earth’s atmosphere. The parabolic "heat shield" curvature seen here was sculpted by some of the hottest temperatures found in nature, and is the most efficient angle at which heat deflects from a falling object. NASA engineers studied this angle in other oriented meteorites when designing the heat shields for the first manned space capsules.

Among its other attributes, the Brenham main mass is also the largest oriented meteorite with a smoothed curvature. The smoothness is the result of a repeating cycle in Earth’s upper atmosphere in which the more easily melted olivine crystals exposed tendrils of the nickel-iron matrix, which in turn melted and exposed more crystals, etc., until the meteorite slowed to terminal velocity. A significant fraction of the mass of this meteorite vaporized or ablated off its edges during its descent. The ablative heat shield-like action pushed the hottest gasses created, referred to as the shock layer, hotter than the surface temperature of the sun, away from the meteorite. The appearance of this example is to be contrasted with lot 23, an oriented iron meteorite which exhibits the more typical presentation of regmaglypts.

While there is uncertainty regarding whether area Native Americans witnessed the fall itself, petroglyphs have been found nearby depicting what could have been the Brenham event. The presence of Brenham meteorites in burial mounds as far away as Ohio—including jewelry fashioned out of Brenham meteorites—indicates that Native Americans, like modern collectors, were transfixed by these stunning extraterrestrial stones.

It was in the late 19th Century that outside attention was first brought to what would be known as Brenham meteorites. Eliza Kimberly, a homesteader, correctly believed the unusual rocks scattered across her property were meteorites, so she collected them. Her suspicions were confirmed in 1890 when scientists affirmed the extraterrestrial origin of several masses, and the area was dubbed “The Kansas Meteorite Farm.”

In 1929, after having recovered multiple specimens, the "Father of Meteoritics," Dr. H. H. Nininger plotted what he believed to be the Brenham meteorite strewn field (the elliptical area in which pieces of the Brenham meteorite are strewn across Earth’s surface). Seventy-five years later, meteorite hunter Steve Arnold reviewed archives and came to believe that what Nininger thought to be an impact crater was more likely a buffalo wallow. Based on this premise, and utilizing data provided by local prospector H. O. Stockwell, who in the 1940s recovered several large pallasites using a primitive, wheelbarrow metal-detector, Arnold replotted the strewn field. In partnership with geologist and attorney, Philip C. Mani, Arnold commenced his quest with the aid of a sophisticated metal detector in a previously unsearched area and found the mother lode.

Following the announcement of Arnold’s discovery, the NASA funded Lunar and Planetary Institute and the Houston Museum of Natural History were granted permission by Mani to visit the replotted strewn field to conduct experiments with a newly-designed ground penetrating radar intended for use on Mars. The highly reported experiment resulted in the recovery of an additional 150 pound specimen.

The newly plotted strewn field has now been exhaustively searched. At 1,410 pounds, this meteorite is the foremost specimen of the meteorite bounty rooted in the history of the Heartland. Until Arnold’s 2005 find, the largest known Brenham pallasite was a 1000 pound example found by Stockwell which was, until the devastating tornado on May 4, 2007, on display in Greensburg, Kansas.

Dappled in a mango-accented blush and gray surface that thinly veils the largest single aggregate of extraterrestrial semi-precious gems, this meteorite has been on exhibition since its recovery. An incomparably magnificent showpiece, the discovery of this mass was reported by hundreds of publications and is the finest meteorite of its kind in the world. 914 x 812 x 787mm (36 x 32 x 31in) and 641 kilos (1,410 pounds)


  • Custom armature and pedestal included with removable exhibition flats.

Saleroom notices

  • Measurements should read: 36 x 29 x 21in
Auction information

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