The sky’s no limit to buyers of meteorites that have fallen to earth queuing up to bid at a specialist auction.
After hurtling billions of miles across space and surviving the burn-up of entering the atmosphere travelling at thousands of miles an hour, these meteorites are scarce and valuable lumps of rock and metal.
If you want to stand beside the experts, you need to get your terminology right.
A meteor is an object passing through the earth’s atmosphere leaving a tell-tale bright trail.
A meteorite is an object that was undoubtedly once a meteor that has landed on the surface of the earth.
Specialist valuer James Hyslop is running the sale of meteorites at London auction house Christies later in April.
Rocks that fell to earth
He explained the factors that make the price of one of the rocks that have fallen to the ground.
“Pricing a meteorite is an interesting process,” said Hyslop.
“Until recently we just weighed the meteorite and set a price per gram, but now the process has become a lot more sophisticated.”
The starting point is scarcity.
Not that many rocks fall out of the sky. The auction has 76 entries and as Hyslop explains, the inventory is not replenished that often, although the big bang over the Russian Siberian town of Chelyabinsk in 2013 increased stock dramatically.
Then size, shape, science and the story of the meteorite determine the price.
The meteorites at the auction have guide from $350 to $1.1 million.
The most expensive is embedded with gems from outer space.
Gems from space
“Collectors chase specific types of meteorite, like pallasite slices and spheres that have peridot,” Hyslop said. Peridot is a bright green gemstone found on earth as well as in space.
“Lunar meteorite are always highly sought after as well.”
A lunar meteorite is a chunk of rock blasted into space when a large meteorite smashed into the surface of the moon. After orbiting in space for millions of years, gravity pulled the rock down to earth.
Some meteorites in the auction are Martian – exploding off the surface of Mars and ending up on earth in the same way as the lunar meteorites.
“The thrill of holding a piece of another planet or object from space in your hand is what these collections are about,” he said.