BETHEL, Maine (CBS/AP) — From an outsider’s perspective , a museum that houses the five largest lunar meteorites may be as difficult to find as a space rock in a field.

The Maine Mineral & Gem Museum that opens Thursday is located a bit off the beaten path, in the town of Bethel in western Maine.

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The 15,000-square-foot museum is displaying more than 100 gemstones, 2,000 minerals and 250 meteorites. It’s one of the largest collections of meteorites from Mars and contains a third of the Earth’s moon rocks.

“You can take this museum and plop it down in any major city, and this collection would still be extraordinary,” museum director Barbra Barrett told WGME-TV.

The Maine Mineral & Gem Museum (Image credit: WGME)

Most of the meteorites on display are from asteroids, but some are known to have fallen from the moon. They were sent hurling into space after asteroids hit the moon, creating the craters that dot its landscape. One of them weighs more than 120 pounds and is the largest piece of the moon that’s ever been discovered on Earth.

Meteorite expert Darryl Pitt, a consultant on the project, said the scientific community is surprised that such a collection is in Maine.

“When I tell my colleagues in Europe and Asia that there’s a collection of this pedigree in Maine, the first question they ask is where’s Maine?” Pitt told The Associated Press.

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Rocks at the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum (Image credit: WGME)

Why Maine?

The museum’s founders, Larry Stifler and Mary McFadden, began coming to western Maine in the 1970s. The Massachusetts couple became interested in the local mining history and bought a tract that included the Bumpus Mine, which had produced feldspar and the gemstone beryl.

“This area is really the central area for Maine mining and gem stones, so this is why we decided to put the museum here,” Stifler said.

Despite its rural location, the museum is world class, Pitt said. “It’s the real deal,” he said.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

 

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