(MintPress) – As the Russian region of Chelyabinsk slowly returns to normal after a 7,000 ton meteor, the largest object to hit earth in more than 100 years, exploded in the region last Friday, many of the Siberian town’s inhabitants are finding a silver lining to having been the landing spot for this large chunk of space material: They have the chance to sell fragments of the meteorite to collectors or keep a memento for themselves.
After the meteor exploded, which is estimated to have been as powerful as 20 Hiroshima bombs, many fragments of the meteor are being discovered by the town’s people. Fifty-three rock fragments were collected solely on the frozen surface of Lake Chebarkul, and as Russia’s Academy of Science’s Meteorite Committee works to find and collect other fragments, many meteorite collectors are willing to pay high prices for a piece of this highly publicized meteor.
Larisa V. Briyukova found a fist-sized stone under a hole in the roof tiles of her woodshed. She sold it to a stranger on Monday for $230, but told NDTV that she later regretted selling it when a man showed up a few hours later offering $1,300 for a piece of the meteor after spotting a hole in her roof. Briyukova added that in the end she was glad she sold the piece since “the police might have come and taken it away anyway.”
Selling fragments of meteorites isn’t necessarily illegal, but Eric Olson, who runs a meteorite collector website called Star-bits.com, tells Mint Press the sale of pieces of this specific meteorite will be legal to buy and sell if the Russian government decides it’s legal.
Similarly, M3-Media, a financial news site, reported that under Russian law a person can gain legal title to a meteorite, but only if it is reported to the authorities and submitted to a laboratory for tests. The laboratory will charge 20 percent of the estimated value of the object for certification, the site reported, citing the Russian Academy of Sciences.
“If a government allows a meteorite to be exported it would be legal,” Olson said, adding that “pieces NASA picked up on the moon from the Apollo mission, those are illegal to own and sell. They belong specifically to NASA and they gave a piece to every government of every country in the world. Some of those have disappeared and shown up for sale,” but Olson doesn’t recommend buying those.
Mint Press News requested clarification from NASA regarding the legal status of buying parts of the Russian meteorite. Janet Anderson, public affairs officer at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, said she wasn’t aware of any U.S. restrictions that would prohibit American collectors from buying a piece of the Russian meteor so long as it was legal in Russia. And as far as the law goes for any meteorites that may fall on American soil, Anderson says that “in the U.S., if [a meteorite] fell on an individual’s property it would be OK if they sold it.”
Part of the reason scientists are not fond of the sale of meteorite fragments is because they want to study as much of the material as possible.
As Victor Grokhovsky, an assistant professor of metallurgy at Southern Ural Federal University in Russia explained: “We send up spaceships to asteroids to obtain this material, at great expense, and here it flew right to us,” he said. “It would be nice if the government coordinated with us, the scientists. When we want to be somewhere, they won’t let us near. When we want them to be somewhere, they are nowhere to be found.”
Scientists may be having a hard time finding fragments, as Alfia N. Zharkova, a mother of two, said that “the children find the [fragments]. Everybody who has children has piles of these [black stones].”
Sasha Zarezina, 8, is one of those children, who after school, plunges into snowbanks, “laughing, kicking and throwing up plumes of powdery snow” in search of meteorite pieces.
For meteorite collectors in the U.S., Olson warns that any meteorite particle that the seller claims to be from this latest meteor in Russia is likely a fake, since it takes a long time to get pieces from Russia to the U.S.
When buying a meteorite piece, Olson says it takes a lot of experience looking at various meteorites over the years to determine not only if the meteorite is real, but also the quality of the piece.
When it comes to the value of the Russian meteorite pieces, Olson says that based upon photos he has seen, the pieces are not worth a lot, but adds that the meteor was a big event and there has been very little going on in the world of meteorite collectors.
“If there’s only a handful of pieces, there are a lot of [meteorite] collectors,” Olson said. “They could become very expensive,” despite the fact that the meteorite was a stone meteorite, belonging to the most common class of ordinary chondrite meteorites.
Olson told Mint Press News that ordinary meteorite fragments typically sell for $2 to $3 per gram, but can cost as much as $100 per gram. “Depending on where it falls and what the circumstances are,” Olson said the price varies, and estimated that pieces of the Russian meteorite would go for around $50 a gram.