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Why Are Meteorites So Expensive?

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Why Are Meteorites So Expensive?


Why Are Meteorites So Expensive?

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel. For all the markets and prices that we report on here, the stock and bond markets, the price of crude oil, the housing market, here's one that our newscasters commonly overlook: the meteorite market.

This week, we just can't ignore it. That's because there are several bits of meteorites up for auction this weekend, and one of them, according to Heritage Auctions of Dallas, is what collectors call a hammerstone, a meteorite that hit a manmade object. It is the famous Garza Stone. Well, it's famous among meteorite enthusiasts, in any case.

David Herskowitz is director of the natural history section at Heritage Auctions. And Mr. Herskowitz, you've estimated the price of the Garza Stone, that it should go for somewhere between $55,000 and $75,000. What's so valuable about this meteorite?

Mr. DAVID HERSKOWITZ (Director, Natural History Section, Heritage Auctions): Well, number one, meteorites in general are extremely rare. The entire known quantity of meteorites that are out there are actually less than the annual output of gold, and then they even become more rare when they hit things like manmade objects.

The Garza Stone hit a house in a Chicago suburb, and it's one of very, very few meteorites that have actually hit a manmade object.

SIEGEL: This was the Garza family home in Park Forest, Illinois.

Mr. HERSKOWITZ: Yeah. They were home at the time, and it actually woke up their 14-year-old son. It went through the roof and landed right in his bedroom after ricocheting around the room.

SIEGEL: That's very rare provenance for any rock. On the other hand, it's a rock.

Mr. HERSKOWITZ: Well, no. Meteorites are more than just rocks. They actually hold the key to life on this planet. Many meteorites were actually found with amino acids inside, and as you know, amino acids are the building blocks of life on this world.

The Panspermia Theory indicates that life on this planet actually derived from meteorites.

SIEGEL: Well, be that as it may, who actually buys meteorites at auctions? Are they natural history museums? Are they people who have collections of meteorites?

Mr. HERSKOWITZ: Yeah. Well, to answer the question of who buys meteorites, usually people of very high intelligence.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HERSKOWITZ: No, actually - yeah, meteorites have been collected for many years. Every major natural history museum in this country, their collections came from private collectors. And then of course when they pass on, they usually end up donating their specimens to museums.

SIEGEL: In the auction house's description of the Garza Stone, you note some other hammerstones that have fetched good prices at auction. One example, you write, is an ordinary mailbox hit by a meteorite...

Mr. HERSKOWITZ: Exactly.

SIEGEL: …in Claxton, Georgia…

Mr. HERSKOWITZ: Exactly.

SIEGEL: …a now somewhat mangled metal mass with its red flag still in the up position. It went for $82,000 at auction.

Mr. HERSKOWITZ: Exactly. And the smaller the object that a meteorite hits, the more valuable. So, this was a mailbox. So, the meteorite was actually delivered, you know, in Claxton. So, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: But you're saying value accrues to a meteorite on the assumption it had better aim, it could hit a smaller bull's-eye on Earth?

Mr. HERSKOWITZ: Basically, yes. Think about it. The planet is huge. So, if a meteorite hits Japan and a similar meteorite hits Australia, the Japanese meteorite is a lot more expensive and more valuable because Japan is a much smaller target than Australia.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HERSKOWITZ: Right. And also, if you think about the planet, there's very, very little area on the planet that is densely populated. So, that's why out of all of history, there have been no meteorite-persons collisions. In other words, not one meteorite has hit a human being on this planet, though about five years ago, there was a meteorite that actually killed a cow. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In 1954, a meteorite came through the roof of a house in Sylacauga, Alabama, and struck Ann Elizabeth Hodges on the hand and hip.]

SIEGEL: And did the cow go up for auction after that?

Mr. HERSKOWITZ: No, there were steaks - no, what they did was they just served up a lot of steaks that night.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Now, for all of this sales pitch, the last time somebody tried to sell this one, I gather, it didn't sell.

Mr. HERSKOWITZ: Yeah. No, because the owner, Mr. Hupe of the Hupe Collection, put a reserve of about $80,000 on it at the time, which in an auction situation, that's not a good idea. In an auction situation, it's basically the buyers that set the price.

SIEGEL: Well, David Herskowitz, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. HERSKOWITZ: That's okay. You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's David Herskowitz of Heritage Auctions. The auction of the Garza Stone is Sunday in Dallas.

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