Ever since I was a kid, I have been fascinated with space. I would look up at the stars, and I just knew that other people were up there somewhere, looking back at our little point of light, and thinking the same kind of thoughts. When I was 7 years old, Neil and Buzz landed on the moon, and I was sure that somehow, when I grew up, I would get there, too. (incidentally, that’s me in the red on the right in the picture–and on the left? Well, that’s Buzz Aldrin!)
Dreams can be dashed by reality and time, but the desire can still live on. I became a collector of all things space…and NASA…and then I found that collecting meteorites was not only possible, but also fascinating. Here are objects that spent millions of years wandering through space, only to endure a fiery entry through our atmosphere to end up, astonishingly, in my hands.
The more I researched these space travelers, the more I became fascinated with their vast variety and appearance. When most people think of meteorites, they tend to think of the Nickel – Iron type (or at least I did). Heavy metal, often pockmarked, objects, dull black or grey. Wasn’t I surprised to discover that the Irons make up only about 6% of FOUND meteorites, by number, and 11.3% by weight. In collections, they make up 27.7%. The Chondrites (one form of the stony meteorites) make up 75% by weight and 85% by number found!
In spite of this, my small collection still only has one stony. My one and only stony (so far); pictured to the right, is a slice of the Ghubra meteorite, which was found in Oman in 1954. See the white spot on the bottom left side of the specimen? I am assured by experts that the spot, called a chondrule, is older than the planet Earth by as much as 500 million years!
The pride and joy of my collection is one of the rarest types of Irons. A type of Stony – Iron meteorite called a pallasite. Pallasites are made up of Iron – Nickel, but have crystallized almost gem-like grains of olivine, a silicate that varies in color from a brownish yellow to an olive green, embedded in the iron-nickel matrix which can rage up to 1 cm or more in size. These are easily the most beautiful of all meteorite types. As I said, they are also quite rare – making up less than 1% of specimens found. As you might imagine, they fetch a fairly high price (I saved many pennies to get mine).
The first meteorite I acquired was one of the most common and best known. The Campo del Cielo (Field of Heaven) meteorite find is truly vast. Known by natives for uncounted years, it was first found and named by Spanish explorers in 1576 in the Chaco province of northern Argentina. The two largest known masses are 37 and 18 tons and are considered national treasures. Tens of thousands of smaller masses ranging from just few grams to hundreds of kilos have been found, and are often found for sale to collectors.
I have been lucky enough to visit the Tucson Gem and Mineral show several times. This is the largest mineral show on the planet, and is held every year in February. These visits have enabled me to see many meteorites (and even buy a few!), and meet several of world’s leading collectors and dealers. On a recent visit, we were able to acquire some Campo del Cielos that were in somewhat distressed condition (being iron, they were somewhat rusty, having not been properly cared for). I spent a fair amount of time figuring how to stabilize them, and more time to actually do the work and remove most of the rust, so at least for now, they are in pretty good shape. More could be done, but I thought it might be interesting for you to get in on the activity as well. You can purchase these meteorites that range in size from 160g to 395g from Educational Innovations.
On the same trip, I also found a truly marvelous book on meteorites, somewhat predictably called “Meteorites”. Written by Alain Carion, one of the leading collectors, it is aimed at people who don’t know much about meteorites, but are interested in them, and I read it cover to cover on one leg of my trip home. I learned more in those several hours than I had managed to absorb in the prior few years. I highly recommend it.
I think that people with even a slight interest in space and the unknown will be fascinated by the simple act of holding a meteorite in their hand. An object that has spent the vast majority of its life wandering between the planets – going places that most of us can only dream of going — holds its own magic.