The Old Woman Arrives
by Claudia Heller
She arrived in a blinding light and then remained hidden until she was discovered by three prospectors. If you meet her she will be the oldest woman you ever meet. She is the Old Woman Meteorite, the second largest meteorite found in the United States and after several moves she now resides at the Discovery Center of the Bureau of Land Management in Barstow, California.
It was late in 1975 when the meteorite was found in the Old Woman Mountains of San Bernardino County. She weighs 6,070 pounds and measures 38 inches long, 30 inches wide and 34 inches high. She is mostly composed of iron, about 6% nickel and small amounts of cobalt, phosphorus, chromium and sulphur.
The Old Woman is not stunning like a shiny precious stone, however she piques the imagination and begs the question: where did she come from and what is her age? Scientists say she came from the Asteroid Belt located in an elliptical orbit around the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. She was born as a fragment from a collision of asteroids. She refuses to tell her age.
When a meteoroid tumbling through space enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it becomes a meteor as it heats to incandescence due to friction caused by the pull of gravity. If it reaches the ground before it vaporizes, it becomes a meteorite. That is what happened to the Old Woman.
Moving the Old Woman was a problem, one that was solved by the Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363. She was later trucked to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. and in 1980 the Smithsonian returned her to the California desert where she remains on display.
Two full-size Old Woman replicas are displayed at other museums in Southern California, but Barstow’s meteorite is the original.
Located at 831 Barstow Road in Barstow, the Discovery Center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. The Center also features hands on exhibits for children, a native plant and animal habitat, a secret garden and a pond. There is also a gift shop, art work and docents on hand to lead tours and answer questions. For more information, call (760) 252-6000. ~ Claudia