The Cascadia Meteorite Laboratory, a group in Portland State’s Department of Geology dedicated to the study and public education of meteorites, hosted its annual fundraiser on Saturday, Nov. 8. The fundraiser and auction provides most of the funds needed for equipment and personnel to classify and study meteorites that the CML has collected, according to the lab’s founders.
The event featured dozens of stones and cores for sale by dealers, and the auction of several unique meteorite pieces. Up for sale were some of the last few bits of Oregon’s most recently discovered meteorite in Morrow County.
“This is probably your last chance to get a piece of that meteorite,” said Edwin Thompson, a cofounder of the CML and a dealer himself.
Dick Pugh, a cofounder of the CML, said the lab runs on both grants and donations, but until a meteorite has been classified—verifiably linked to a specific meteor—the lab can’t apply for grants to study it. The group relies on donations until they can get meteorites classified.
According to the CML’s website, its mission is to promote meteorite research, which helps to unravel complex issues ranging from climate change to the origin of life.
This passion for knowledge is what brought about the laboratory in the first place. Thompson refers to the idea of the CML as his and Pugh’s dream child.
According to Pugh, they had been mulling over the idea of a meteorite lab or museum at PSU for a long time, but it wasn’t until Melinda Hutson moved to town that the lab became a reality. Hutson is also a cofounder and is currently the curator for the CML. She is responsible for much of the classification work done by the lab.
According to Pugh, most meteorite labs start with donations of large collections of meteorites, along with up to millions of dollars in funding. The CML started small, with only one meteorite and no money in 2003.
Alexander Ruzicka, a geology professor at PSU and director for the CML, said they’ve come a long way from their small beginnings. He estimated the CML’s collection to include about 840 distinct meteorites.
“Since [the first one], we have bought a number of meteorites. We have had several hundred given to us by people who have collections,” Pugh said.
The meteorites come from all over the world, Ruzicka said. Last year, the CML received a collection of pieces from Iran to classify.
“We still have…one from Cambodia we’re working on,” Ruzicka said.
Many pieces of the collection come from Northwestern Africa, because the terrain is particularly amenable to meteorite discovery there. Ruzicka estimated he’s been contacted from just about everywhere, except Antarctica.
“But that’s actually a good place to find meteorites,” he said. “So I’m expecting one day I’ll have one of my Antarctica colleagues call me up and say ‘I’ve got a meteorite!’”
Until then, five continents will have to suffice.
More information about the Cascadia Meteorite Laboratory’s work, including information on graduate projects and classes, can be found at meteorites.pdx.edu.