The Lorton meteorite, the one that crashed into a doctor’s office in 2010, made a surprise appearance Tuesday at the Smithsonian Institution’s appropriations hearing.

The Lorton meteorite, guest star at the Smithsonian appropriations hearing (Chip Clark/SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION)

The dark stone is about 5.4 billion years old, explained Jeffrey E. Post, a geologist and curator of the Smithsonian’s National Gem and Mineral Collection. Its value to scientists and the public, Post said, reflected its pristine quality and the fact that it was recovered so quickly.

Both Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), the chairman of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies subcommittee, and Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) said they were grateful for the chance to view the meteorite. Simpson tried a joke: “You say this is what the Earth looked like? Have you been to Cleveland?”

Moran wanted to know where it had been all this time. Post explained the asteroid belt. The museum says that sometime in the near future it hopes to display the meteorite.

The Smithsonian officials also brought an early American powder horn that had belonged to Prince Simbo, a black soldier and former slave who served in the Continental Army. The engraved horn was purchased by the National Museum of African American History and Culture for its future exhibits and its current online archives.

Once the displays were examined, the committee went back to its scheduled business and asked Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough to justify the 2013 request for $856.8 million.

Some storage buildings were badly damaged in last summer’s earthquake, Clough said. He explained the African American museum’s building needs, the added programs for the visitors who come to the Mall, the expanded curriculum for teachers and a broad online information for research and entertainment.

“We will continue to fundraise. We raised $182 million last year,” said Clough, adding that this year’s goal is $200 million.

The sad state of the Arts and Industries Building continues to be a concern for the committee. Clough said that $55 million is being spent to stabilize the structure and that work would be completed by spring 2013. Though plans aren’t firm, he said, the building would “showcase work we don’t display.”