Since its incorporation in 1989, the Planetary Studies Foundation has been actively involved in meteorite research and the creation of a world-class meteorite collection. The first major step toward developing such a collection came late in 1995 through the acquisition of the world-famous James M. DuPont meteorite collection.
During his lifetime, Jim DuPont became fascinated with meteorites and made it his life goal to acquire 1,000 distinct meteorites for his personal collection. Jim could be quoted as saying “I will go anywhere and pay any price to acquire a new meteorite.” Throughout his lifetime Jim did just that, although he was certainly not foolish with his spending. At the time of his death in July, 1991 Jim had amassed over 1,000 distinct meteorites, making his collection the largest personal collection in the world.
One of the nicest things about Jim DuPont was his willingness to share his meteorites with researchers from all over the world. He would personally encourage young scientists to pursue careers in the study of meteorites. I am grateful that I can say I was one of those young scientists. I first met Jim in 1978 when we were both actively searching for meteorites in and around Plainview, Texas. From that time to the day of his death, we became very close and trusted friends. It was in the spirit of this trust that Mrs. Violetta J. DuPont, Jim’s widow, asked me for legal purposes to inventory and secure Jim’s collection until such time as its final deposition could be determined. This came to be in late December 1995, when Violetta DuPont entrusted the safety and preservation of the collection to the Planetary Studies Foundation.
Since that time portions of the collection were on display in the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama and several museums in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. Eventually the Planetary Studies Foundation decided that a collection of this magnitude needed a more appropriate home to guarantee its security and availability for future generations. After an extensive search for a proper home it was decided to donate the entire collection to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, CT, where it now resides as a fitting tribute to James M. DuPont.
With the acquisition of the James M. DuPont meteorite collection the Planetary Studies Foundation instantly became a world-class repository for meteorites. This was a most welcome honor and responsibility that has continued to the present day. The 1,000 meteorites in the collection were not only scientifically valuable but served as an inspiration to create an additional collection to include the vast amount of new meteorites coming from Northwest Africa and other parts of the world. This new goal would also give PSF’s scientists the opportunity to study new and interesting specimens from the Moon and Mars.
Jim Lovell, Richard Hoover, and Owen Garriott at the South Pole holding an Explorers Club Expedition flag during the 2000 PSF Antarctic Expedition.
From 1995 to the present, the PSF collection grew from 9 that first year to over 1500 distinct specimens by the end of 2020. These specimens were acquired in three ways: cash purchases, specimens sent in from field representatives, and recovery expeditions to Antarctica. The latter three expeditions to Antarctica (1998, 2000, and 2002) recovered 54 meteorites and still represent the only non-governmental scientific expeditions to recover meteorites.
The disposition of these 54 Antarctic meteorites is governed by provisions in the International Antarctic Treaty and over the years samples have been made available to qualified researchers according to established NSF guidelines.
Although the 54 Antarctic meteorites serve as the centerpiece of the PSF collection, hundreds of Northwest African stones have revealed other interesting specimens, including some lunar and martian meteorites. The collection also contains numerous examples of exotic achondrites and fascinating carbonaceous chondrites. One chondrite, NWA 10952, is particularly interesting. It is the world’s largest specimen of the exceedingly rare EL4 enstatite chondrite weighing in at over 17 kilograms. In contrast, the PSF also has the world’s smallest EL4, PCA 01006 from Antarctica, weighing in at 0.75 g.
Unlike the DuPont meteorite collection, the PSF collection is active and grows by approximately 30 meteorites per year. But just like the DuPont collection, it too will eventually be donated to the Yale Peabody museum of Natural History where its extensive number of type specimens will be available to future researchers.
Dr. Paul P. Sipiera, President and CEO
PARK FOREST METEORITE FALL
Park Forest Meteorite
A bright fireball was seen by numerous observers in parts of Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio around midnight of March 26, 2003. Numerous stones fell, mostly concentrated in the area of the village of Park Forest, IL. At least two houses in Park Forest were struck, as was the Fire Station.
Thanks to a 4:15 am wake up call from WGN’s early morning radio personality Spike O’Dell, Paul Sipiera was privileged to be the first scientist on the scene. Spike alerted him to the possibility that a meteorite may have fallen close to Chicago. Paul and his daughter Paula immediately drove the 70 miles to Park Forest. His earlier doubts about it being a real meteorite fall quickly vanished as he saw all of the beautiful black stones being passed around, and he and Paula knew that this was a day they would never forget.