Meteorites are key features of many natural history museum collections, but there's never been an international conference dedicated to taking care of these rocks that fall to Earth from space.
That's changing this week in the suburbs of Rome, on the grounds of the Vatican Observatory. There, three dozen meteorite experts from around the world are gathering to exchange notes and share best practices for tending their collections.
The Vatican has collected meteorite samples for over a century, with a total of 1,100 samples making up almost 330 lbs. (150 kilograms), and the facility is known for its particularly helpful techniques for analyzing the rocks' density.
This week's conference was organized to highlight a handful of topics surrounding the opportunities and challenges of meteorite curation. Those subjects include legal issues surrounding meteorite collecting, the storing and sharing of information about meteorite samples, and best practices for taking care of and organizing the samples themselves.
In addition, representatives from 29 individual meteorite collections from around the world will have an opportunity to highlight their work. That includes facilities at the Smithsonian Institution, the Natural History Museum in London and University Hassan II in Casablanca, as well as the facility storing samples collected by Japan's Hayabusa asteroid mission.