UCLA Meteorite Gallery
If you want to realize how little you actually know about meteorites, I've got the place for you! I was browsing online for something to do with my 6-year-old around LA's Bel Air area—I'll tell you why later—and ended up finding UCLA's meteorite gallery. And who doesn't love rocks from freaking space?! Sold.
UCLA's meteorite collection is the 5th largest in the United States and the largest one on the west coast. About 100 meteorites are featured at the meteorite gallery, which opened in 2014 with the goal of educating the public about cosmochemistry—the study of meteorites!—and the research being done at UCLA.
The gallery is available and free to the public weekdays and Sunday afternoons. See visitors hours for details. It is unstaffed during the week, but there is a volunteer docent available on Sundays to answer questions.
FANCY YOURSELF A METEORITE HUNTER?
If you've found an interesting rock that you suspect might be a meteorite, first consider these questions about the rock's properties such as shape, color, and magnetism. If you think your rock passes the tests, you can send a small sample to UCLA. The department reports receiving many rock samples every week, from people believing they have found a meteorite. Unfortunately, the samples almost never are pieces of meteorites....they jokingly call these "meteor-wrongs." (I can't help it, that joke makes me smile every time!)
But sometimes people do get lucky. One of the rocks on display (pictured below) was brought in by a couple who had found it during a hike. They liked the way it looked so they brought it home and there it stayed for a few years until they brought it to experts for analysis. It turned out to be not only a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite but one of the world's best oriented meteorite—a meteor that kept the same orientation throughout its travel through our atmosphere, giving it its distinctive shape.
MORE ABOUT METEORITES
So how many kinds of meteorites can there possibly be? Well first, we can divide them by origin. Many came from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, as can be expected. But the gallery also has on display some meteorites from Mars and the moon. These Martian and lunar rocks were probably dislodged and launched into space by another meteorite impact—remember Mars and the moon have a weaker gravity than Earth and little atmosphere so it's easier for things to go flying off—before becoming meteorites themselves on Earth.
Of the meteorites originating from asteroids, there are two major types: primitive and differentiated. Differentiated meteorites come from an asteroid who has undergone large-scale melting, which causes heavier elements/compounds (such as metals) to sink to the core of the asteroid and lighter elements/compounds (such as silicates) to float to the surface thus creating a core, mantle, and crust composed of distinctively different materials—much like our solar system's rocky planets.
Primitive asteroids, also known as chondrites, are what's left: a chunk of asteroid that did not undergo large-scale melting. Under these two categories are a large number of subclassifications depending on composition. I didn't realize how different meteorites can look from each other!
WHAT CAN KIDS DO
ROCKS. FROM. SPACE. Need I say more?
But despite the coolness factor, my 7-year-old lost interest pretty quickly. There's plenty of rocks and information to keep adults and older kids busy for a while, but younger kids will have a harder time appreciating the variety. Plan accordingly if you have littler ones!
There's a lot of information displayed in each display case, posters around the room, and printed in pamphlets to take home. However, it can get wordy and pretty technical. I couldn't read it and simplify it to a Kindergarten level on the fly. I think part of the reason my daughter's interest wained was that I couldn't answer her questions quickly and concisely enough.
There are helpful resources for parents and educators, both available online and printed in the gallery, like "Gallery Highlights for Grade School Visits," "Teacher's Guide to the UCLA Meteorite Gallery," and a guide for kids. Unless you are well-versed in cosmochemistry, my suggestion is that you read the material ahead of time so you can be already prepared with some answers. Or better yet, attend the gallery during docent hours!
TIPS AND TRICKS
The hardest thing about this gallery will be to find it. I wasn't exactly sure what I was looking for, which didn't help. So let me show you:
On the plus side, no one looked at us weird as we searched around the building and there's a lot of interesting photos in the hallways showing off past research trips and projects. My daughter came out convinced geology students have the best life. Based on what I saw, I might have to agree! So plan to take your time and enjoy the search.
I am constantly dealing with children showing bad table manners, so I got extra creative and promised my girls that I would take them out for an afternoon tea service in a fancy restaurant once they had improved their table manners.
My preschooler has definitively not earned this reward yet, but it occurred to me that it was about time I made good on that promise with my 7-year-old who's come a long way. I researched kid-friendly tea services in LA and selected the Little Royals Tea at Hotel Bel-Air.
Sure, it wasn't cheap. And surprisingly the desserts left us both unimpressed. But overall, we loved our experience. The scones and the tea were absolutely amazing. Everyone on staff went out of their way to make my daughter feel special. It's kind of nice seeing a restaurant treat children like actual people. My daughter loved watching the three swans they keep on the premise and the server gave us stuffed swan to take home as part of the children's tea service.
With our tea time reserved for the late afternoon, we spend the first part of our day around UCLA. I parked at the Hammer Museum where there was plenty of space to park and we walked up Westwood Blvd and Plaza (a gorgeous walk) towards UCLA's main campus. We looked around campus and talked about what college is like. After visiting the meteorite gallery in the geology building, we walked back to the Hammer Museum and visited that (which is also free and part of UCLA). It was my first time at the Hammer Museum and it's a great space, with, by the way, an excellently curated children's book section in the gift shop. We even found some art that matched the our geology-themed day!