In a darkened hallway within the labyrinth of offices and laboratories at the Field Museum, a door with frosted glass opened, a woman peered out and then the door quickly closed again.
Behind that door, a select group of giddy scientists, museum officials and a wealthy donor had gathered Monday afternoon, most wearing purple latex gloves and hovering near a small black plastic box.
The source of so much excitement?
A chunk of charred rock not much larger than an average brick.
“It’s priceless,” said Philipp Heck, a Field scientist, as his gloved fingers lifted the rock out of the box and held it aloft for all to see.
The rock — said by those few permitted to get close enough, to have an odor of “sweet Brussels sprouts” — is older than the dinosaurs, the Earth, the sun.
“It’s pristine,” Heck gushed, noting the meteorite remains in much the same condition it was when it was part of its far larger parent asteroid.
“So it’s the original inventory from which we are formed, the carbon we are made out of — all these organic compounds from which life later formed,” Heck said.
And now it belongs to the Field, after Terry Boudreaux, a retired health care executive and frequent donor, handed it over it to the museum.
In April, a fireball hurtled through the Earth’s atmosphere, showering a hilly region of Costa Rica with meteorites. People from the nearby village quickly scooped up all the pieces they could find — preserving the space debris before rain could wash away any valuable minerals. The Field chunk was the largest piece discovered.
Boudreaux declined to say how much he paid for the meteorite.
Unfortunately, the meteor won’t go on display for the public. To stop its organic material from evaporating, it will be kept “ultra cold” — at minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit.