Bruce Dormancy writes: Holiday shopping for items from the Moon, Mars and the wilds of outer space is still possible for those open to meteoritic stocking stuffers. Such truly ancient pieces of space rock — think older than Earth itself — are increasingly sought after by hundreds of high-end collectors looking for natural pieces of sculpture.
Although a plethora of commercial startups are pining for metal riches from asteroids in the Main Asteroid Belt and beyond, meteorite collectors here on terra firma now routinely buy and sell these off-world treasures at auction.
Christie’s South Kensington Auction House in London is planning their first catalog sale of meteorites next April. Prices typically range from around $500 to over $100,000, depending on the size, type of meteorites, condition and provenance, James Hyslop, the Head of Science & Books at Christie’s South Kensington, told me.
However, some meteorites can sell for much higher.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing paid a cool $1 million for two small Mars meteorites. Indeed, Hyslop says lunar and Martian meteorites are the most sought after, since they are also the most rare; representing less than one percent of the estimated 62,000 catalogued meteorites. The rest all originate from asteroidal or cometary bodies in deep space.
Darryl Pitt, Curator of the Macovich Collection of Meteorites in New York — one of the world’s largest private collections, told me that any given meteorite’s sales value is also influenced by other factors. They include whether the piece is whole or fractured; its locality at the time of discovery; its esthetics; color; crystalline structure and translucency.
And often, the more bizarre their shapes, the better collectors like it. Hyslop notes that meteorites with naturally-occurring holes are much rarer and more highly-prized.
Alan Rubin, a UCLA research geochemist, told me that such bizarre shapes result from both fragmentation while traveling through Earth’s atmosphere and often years of terrestrial weathering after hitting the ground.
But the hot quick trip through our atmosphere is nothing to compared to their circuitous orbital routes to Earth itself.
For meteorites that originated on the Moon or Mars, their journeys here can take up to millions of years. Most lunar meteorites either reach the Earth in a few days or achieve quasi-geocentric orbits that bring them to Earth in less than a million years,” said Rubin.
Mars meteorites typically take much longer.
Rubin says we know this as a result of cosmic ray dating on the meteorites themselves.
He says that when objects in interplanetary space are less than a few meters in size, they are penetrated by cosmic rays which transmute some elements into measurable radioactive isotopes. Read the rest of this entry »
A new documentary about astronaut Gene Cernan is far more than the story of one person’s life
Jeffrey Kluger writes: Real astronauts never say goodbye. At least, not the way you’d think they would before they take off on a mission that could very well kill them. They’re good at the quick wave, the hat tip, the catch-you-on-the-flip-side wink. But the real goodbye—the if I don’t come home here are all the things I always wanted to say to you sort of thing? Not a chance.
“You’re almost too young to know what it means to have your Daddy go to the moon. But one day, you’ll have the feeling of excitement and pride Mommy and Daddy do.”
But Gene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, tried to split the difference—as a scene in the new documentary The Last Man on the Moon, sweetly captures. Before Cernan headed off for his first trip to the moon, the Apollo 10 orbital mission, which was the final dress rehearsal for the Apollo 11 landing a few months later, he mailed his young daughter Tracy a letter. It was written on the fragile onion skin that was air mail stationery, back in the era when the very idea of air mail carried a whiff of exotic distance.
“Punk, we have lots of camping and horseback riding to do when I get back. I want you to look at the moon, because when you are reading this, Daddy is almost there.”
Cernan was a young man when he wrote the letter in 1969, and is a much older man, at 81, when he returns to it in the film. “You’re almost too young to know what it means to have your Daddy go to the moon,” he reads aloud, “But one day, you’ll have the feeling of excitement and pride Mommy and Daddy do. Punk, we have lots of camping and horseback riding to do when I get back. I want you to look at the moon, because when you are reading this, Daddy is almost there.” If the Navy pilot who once landed jets on carrier decks and twice went to the moon mists up as he reads, if his voice quavers a bit, well what of it?
As the title of the movie makes clear, Cernan was the last of the dozen men who set foot on the moon, and the 24 overall who journeyed there. No human being has traveled further into space than low-Earth orbit since Cernan climbed up the ladder of his lunar module in December of 1972, closed the hatch and headed for home. That makes it a very good time for a movie that can serve as equal parts biography, reminiscence and, yes, cultural reprimand for a nation that did a great thing once and has spent a whole lot of time since trying to summon the resolve, the discipline and the political maturity to do something similar again.
“That story, as Cernan and Craig came to agree, would be about the lunar program as a whole and the up-from-the-farm narrative of so many of the men who flew in it, as well as the random currents of fortune that saw some those men make it from terrestrial soil to lunar soil, while others perished in the violent machines that were necessary for them to make those journeys.”
The Last Man on the Moon, which premiered at Austin’s South by Southwest festival in March and was later shown at the Toronto Film Festival, had a long provenance, beginning eight years ago when director Mark Craig, who had read Cernan’s book, requested an interview. Cernan agreed and six months later Craig got back in touch and said he wanted to make a movie based on his memoir.
“My first answer was, ‘Who would be interested in a movie about me?’” Cernan tells TIME. The answer he got impressed him: “This movie is not going to be about you.” It was, instead, going to be about the larger story. Read the rest of this entry »