Copyright 2011 - M.Bandli - Historic Meteorites
The Rosebud meteorite was seen to fall on an early morning around 1907 and was later recovered approximately 1.5 miles west of the town of Burlington, on the plantation of Captain J.W. Waters. Weighing in at nearly 55 kilograms, the hefty stone eventually made its way to the town of Rosebud, where it was used as a "hitching stone" at the local drug store. On May 11, 1915, the stone was donated to the University of Texas by Captain Waters and deposited into the Department of Geology. It wasn't until 1939 that it was first scientifically described and classified by Fred M. Bullard, a geologist at the University of Texas. Since the eyewitness accounts and date of the fall were somewhat vague, Rosebud was officially listed as a find. The stone would remain at the University of Texas for nearly half a century until it would be called upon again, this time, by an historic era of manned spaceflight.
The Dr. Elbert A. King Rosebud File
We were fortunate to recently acquire a large lot of letters, manuscripts, and documents originating from the late Dr. Elbert A. King Estate. The lot contains a treasure trove of meteorite related history and provides a peek at the inner workings of a person who was intimately involved in both meteoritics and the Apollo Program. Below we briefly highlight some of the more interesting items in King's Rosebud file and discuss an important meteorite that few have even heard of.
A Brief Bio: Dr. Elbert Aubrey King, Jr. (1935-1998) was a geologist at the University of Houston who specialized in meteoritics, though he is perhaps best known for the crucial role he played in the design and establishment of the Apollo Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL). Along with becoming the first LRL curator, King was also involved with astronaut training and was one of the first humans to handle lunar material brought back by Apollo 11. Among his many credentials, King received Bachelor's and Master's Degrees from the University of Texas as well as a doctorate from Harvard University. King published over 100 scientific papers and edited the now famous meteorite book "Chondrules and their Origins." Needless to say, King was a key figure in both space sciences and meteoritics during the 50's up until his passing in the 90's.
In 1963 King mailed requests to the curators of numerous meteorite collections in an effort to solicit samples for use in the research and development of NASA's Apollo Program. At the time, meteorites and tektites were of great interest to manned spaceflight. They provided clues to an object's survival through the earth's atmosphere as well as training aids for what the astronauts might find on the lunar surface. As a result of King's request, the University of Texas graciously agreed to loan the Rosebud meteorite to the Manned Spaceflight Center (MSC) and authorized the removal of core samples that King could use for his own research.
Above: The original note in the King file, written by University of Texas Petrologist, Dr. Steve E. Clabaugh, which was taped to the Rosebud meteorite for its delivery to Uel S. Clanton at NASA's MSC. Clanton was the first geologist hired by NASA's Johnson Space Center and worked on numerous Apollo projects including astronaut geology training, lunar surface hand tools, and lunar sample analysis.
Bullard (1939) describes the Rosebud meteorite as a “rather perfect conoid-shaped mass with a smooth nose or 'brusteite' from which oval shaped pittings radiate in all directions.” Despite all its beauty, the Rosebud meteorite has been tucked away out of public view for most of the last century. In fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find a decent photo of the stone beyond the small black and white photos published in Bullard's original report. Thankfully, stored in the King file was a large manila envelope with a note inscribed by Chief Lunar Surface Technologist, John E. Dornbach. It contains a set of five photos that Dornbach had personally taken of the Rosebud meteorite while in the custody of MSC. The breathtaking full color photos show what could easily be ranked in the top most beautiful oriented meteorites in the world. And don't forget -- this stone weighs as much as a small person.
Drilling a small core sample into a meteorite is a good method to effectively preserve key physical characteristics such as orientation or aesthetics. This technique was also used by King on one of the stones from the Sylacauga meteorite.
Above: Ironically, in all its effort to preserve the beauty of the Rosebud meteorite by using the core sample technique, NASA managed to turn the trailing edge into Swiss cheese. This original and one-of-a-kind photograph was taken by King himself and shows that not only two core samples were drilled, as originally authorized, but seven!
Aside from the main mass, which currently resides at the University of Texas, Rosebud is poorly distributed worldwide with only ~30 grams preserved between museums and institutions, and a scant 4.9 grams known preserved between two private collections (D. Edwards and M. Bandli).
Collection No. B273.1- A 1.75 gram cross section of one of King's core samples (ex. Dr. Elbert A. King Estate). Rosebud is a black H5 chondrite and its beautiful, metal-rich interior is seen here, perhaps, for the first time since Bullard and King originally studied it.
Below: a few select items from the Rosebud file, which are self-explanatory. Click the thumnail to enlarge.
Bullard, F.M. (1939) The Rosebud Meteorite, Milam County, Texas. American Mineralogist, 24, April, pp 242-254.