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 »
The Earth is peppered by meteorites all the time. This is how you can find one on your own.
Large blast heard just before midnight followed by burning smell.
“We thought it was a bomb because we felt an expansive wave.”
— Jorge Santamaria
“All the evidence that we’ve confirmed at the site corresponds exactly with a meteorite and not with any other type of event.”
— Ineter scientist Jose Millan
Residents reported hearing a loud bang and feeling the impact, which left a crater 12m (40ft) wide and 5m deep. Government spokeswoman Rosario Murillo said the meteorite seemed to have broken off an asteroid which was passing close to Earth. She said international experts had been called in to investigate further.
No-one was hurt when it hit the wooded area near the international airport and an air force base.
‘Like a bomb’
An adviser to Nicaragua’s Institute of Earth Studies (Ineter), Wilfried Strauch, said he was “convinced it was a meteorite” which caused the impact. Read the rest of this entry »