Meteorites are the next big thing for collectors. Here’s how to get started
On 15 February 2013, near the Siberian town of Chelyabinsk, a meteor with a mass of more than 12,000 metric tons penetrated Earth’s upper atmosphere with a force 30 times greater than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
As the meteor exploded, it scattered its shattered remains over a vast swathe of snowy Russian countryside, littering the landscape with meteorites, which are now available for purchase by collectors.
According to Geoffrey Notkin, co-host of the television show Meteorite Men, most Chelyabinsk space rocks command about US$25 (RM104) per gram. Larger, more sculptural pieces command far higher prices, such as an 890g bullet-nosed Chelyabinsk that was recently valued at more than US$100,000 (RM415,000).
While there are no hard statistics on prices and sales growth, it is clear from talking to Notkin and specialists at auction houses that business is booming in meteorites, no pun intended. Notkin estimates that the number of meteorite-selling websites has jumped tenfold over the past decade.
Darryl Pitt, the curator of New York’s Macovich Collection of Meteorites, who works with the major auction houses, says the secondary market is indeed on the move as evidenced by the prices commanded at an online sale at Christie’s this past February.
Among the sale’s standout lots was a sculpted 32kg Canyon Diablo iron meteorite from the famous Arizona Meteor Crater, which achieved an online record of US$237,500 (RM986,000).
Famous Figures And Their Prizes
Pitt, who had owned Canyon Diablo prior to auction, says that a decade ago the meteorite would have fetched just one-tenth of the price. Meteorites of this calibre have found a cult following among celebrities known for their penchant for cosmic inspiration.
Musician Sting was given an 40kg shield-shaped Campo del Cielo meteorite for his birthday a few years back. Indian billionaire Naveen Jain, a space entrepreneur once ranked No. 121 on the Forbes 400 list, has a meteorite collection worth north of US$5 million (RM20.75 million).
Like many other niche collectibles with passionate devotees, meteorites garner such high prices simply because they are so rare. The world’s entire known inventory, according to Pitt, amounts to less than the annual global production of gold — about 3,100 metric tons.
Planet Of Origin
Most space rocks travel from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and get caught in Earth’s gravitational pull. Most meteors burn up well before hitting the ground.
Those rare relics that have survived impact come in three basic types: stony-irons, being the rarest, account for just three per cent of the finds; irons represent some six per cent; and stones are the most common. A meteorite is always named based on where it’s found. If no specific coordinates are available, a meteorite may be named after a large area instead of a specific town. Meteorites from northwest Africa tend to be known as NWAs.
Market Value For Out-Of-This-World Items
When it comes to determining market prices for meteorites, Hyslop says, the factors are many and varied, and include shape, size, science and story — what he calls “the four S’s.”
Some of the most expensive meteorites, however — which come from the Moon and Mars — continue to be sold by weight. At Christie’s, a 58g lunar meteorite — NWA 11616, found in Algeria’s Sahara desert — sold for US$22,500 (RM93,375). That’s almost US$400 per gram! A 254g Martian meteorite, NWA 8656, which contains some of the Mars atmosphere, sold for US$47,500 (RM197,125), or US$187 a gram. It too had been found in the sands of the Sahara.
Are They Worth Investing In?
Stellar prices aside, Laurence Garvie, an expert who analyses meteorites for the Center for Meteorite Studies at Arizona State University (he can tell whether your meteorite is authentic), reminds us that meteorite collecting isn’t only about money. “They’re worth what someone will pay,” he says. “There’s no intrinsic value because they’re just stones. It’s the excitement they engender.”
Pitt, Hyslop and Notkin all agree that a meteorite’s aesthetic appearance — rather than its weight — will continue to dominate the high-end market.
A good place to start, says Notkin, is by owning irons, which are prized for their sculpted shapes. And, because of their iron-nickel compositions, most are peppered with enticing little craters (called regma-glypts) from partial melting during their fiery trips through the atmosphere.