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Making fake meteorites

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#1 CygnuS

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 12:27 AM

I'm very concerned about how fake meteorites made with 3D printers could dramatically alter meteorite values. Is this something that is already starting to happen? I don't know if 3D printers can make fakes YET. I do know that something shook me up that is in the current Astronomy magazine on page 13 (April 2013) It stated that 3D printers can create small objects out of synthetic Moon rock material.
Several weeks ago I posted my concern about 3D printers on the Off Topic Observatory but the vast mojority of responders only had high praise for these gizmos. Is there any concern at all from meteorite collectors?

#2 skinnyonce

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 10:59 AM

I was thinking of starting a collection of meteorites till I read this(your) post,,better do some more homework before I start

#3 CygnuS

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 11:15 AM

If you want to collect cheap ones I wouldn't be discouraged because conterfeiting them wouldn't be cost effective. Collect for fun and nothing more.
As for me, I'm going to avoid expensive ones and any expensive collectable for that matter. 3D printers will only improve in time and the wonderful amazing things they'll be able to do will be countered by the bad....like counterfeits and factory closings. All of technology throughout history comes with a cost. We can't have nuclear power without nuclear weapons. It seems to be in our nature.

#4 csa/montana

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 12:50 PM

I was thinking of starting a collection of meteorites till I read this(your) post,,better do some more homework before I start


Yes, do your homework inasmuch as only buying from reputable dealers; as they in turn buy from reputable sources that they are sure of. I certainly wouldn't let 3D printers capabilities stop you from starting a collection of meteorites. It's a most enjoyable hobby, and goes hand in hand, with astronomy! I also agree, it would not be worthwhile to make fake ones of the less expensive ones.

#5 Glassthrower

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 01:49 PM

I can spot a fake in seconds. I really don't think a 3D model will pass for the real thing. Also, some meteorites are very cheap and widely available - it's not really worth the trouble and expense to make fake ones.

For one thing, the density would be wrong, no matter how good the 3D printer is. Also, the texture would be off. Maybe it would fool someone who is only seeing a photo, but once it arrived in my hands, I would instantly know it's not real.

3D printing could be very useful to make replicas of famous meteorites - like Lafayette (with it's exquisite oriented shape and flowlines), the Venus Stone, Black Beauty, or any other famous (and hard to acquire) meteorite. These could be used for educational or outreach purposes.

It's a great emerging technology, but I really don't think it can be used to make a convincing meteorite.....not yet at least.

Best regards,

MikeG

#6 CygnuS

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 02:32 PM

.....not yet at least.

And that's the part that concerns me.
3D printers are going to do more and more amazing things as they advance. That's technology for you.
Bad just about always comes with good with tech. For some reason humans can't make nuclear power without making nuclear weapons. It's in our nature. We'll be willing to risk factory jobs and a tidal wave of forgeries just to have the latest technological in our home. People who think that 3D printers will never advance far enough to make realistic fakes of collectables are the same folks who didn't believe we'd ever be able to make 3D printers in the first place.

#7 peter scherff

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 05:56 PM

Hi Cygnus,

Genuine meteorites can be purchased for pennies a gram. As long as they are so cheap I see no danger from 3D printed counterfeits. My guess is that you are more likely to be killed by a meteorite than fooled by a 3D printed "meteorite".

Peter

#8 CygnuS

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 06:41 PM

Thanks Peter but I mentioned in the third post that I'm not concerned about the cheap ones. It's the higher end ones that are the concern. I'm also not too concerned with being fooled by one today. It's tomorrow that concerns me because tomorrow is when 3D printers will be good enough to make even more convincing counterfeits. That's when the prices of the real ones could drop. Only people who currently own them should be worried. Future buyers may like lower prices but at what cost?....the cost of not knowing if you bought the genuine article.

#9 peter scherff

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 06:54 PM

It is very easy to pass off a common meteorite as a rare one. This is a problem in the meteorite collecting world currently. A meteorite dealer was just caught offering a sample of Oum Dreyga mislabeled as the recent Russian fall. That is why everyone on this forum will tell you; know the dealer you are purchasing from. The threat is here now. Let the buyer beware.

Peter

#10 1965healy

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 06:57 PM

As an aside, the first commercial nuclear power plant was built in 1954, roughly ten years after the first nuclear weapon. Another example of military technology leading to development of something other than a weapon.
There is always an up side/down side to any advances that we make. I'm all for looking at the up side. If I'm wrong then I'll buy a 3D printer, print this post in chocolate letters and eat my words.

#11 CygnuS

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 10:51 PM

As an aside, the first commercial nuclear power plant was built in 1954, roughly ten years after the first nuclear weapon. Another example of military technology leading to development of something other than a weapon.

This is not a very good defense of technology. I would gladly get rid of all the nuclear weapons in the world if the cost was losing all the nuclear power plants. I understand that nuclear weapons can be a deterent that can prevent wars but since my grandchildren live in an industrialized country they wouldn't survive an all out nuclear holocaust. With more and more nations getting nuclear weapons, war is just a matter of time. There's no upside to that.

#12 csa/montana

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 11:22 PM

I thought we were discussing Meteorites? :confused:

#13 1965healy

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 12:14 AM

We were discussing 3D printers and fake meteorites
[/quote]
And that's the part that concerns me.
3D printers are going to do more and more amazing things as they advance. That's technology for you.
Bad just about always comes with good with tech. For some reason humans can't make nuclear power without making nuclear weapons. It's in our nature. We'll be willing to risk factory jobs and a tidal wave of
forgeries just to have the latest technological in our home. People who
think that 3D printers will never advance far enough to make realistic
fakes of collectables are the same folks who didn't believe we'd ever be
able to make 3D printers in the first place. [/quote]
I pointed out that nuclear power was developed AFTER weapons, not before. My feeble attempt to point out that something that appears negative can have potentially positive results.

#14 Ira

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 10:47 AM

If you think you've got problems now, just wait 'til transporters get here.

/Ira

#15 Glassthrower

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 02:26 PM

This is why provenance is so important with meteorites. Buy from a trusted dealer and you will get genuine meteorites. Buy from an unknown or some random seller on eBay, and you have no idea what you are actually getting.

#16 CygnuS

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 06:59 PM

This is why provenance is so important with meteorites. Buy from a trusted dealer and you will get genuine meteorites. Buy from an unknown or some random seller on eBay, and you have no idea what you are actually getting.

Every meteorite collector wants the trusted dealers to stay ahead of the forgers but they all want technology to improve too. It would be nice if the two desires were compatible but they're certainly not. Oh well, I guess I've already said too much. Thanks for all the responses.

#17 oblako

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 09:13 PM

Even without making fake meteorites there are quite a few EBAY users who sell Earth rocks as meteorites. I contacted two of them. When I told one that the rock he's selling is not a meteorite he told me: "You are funny." And even if you are buying a meteorite from a well known dealer, there is a danger you're buying something else. No, not because a dealer want to fool you, but because he himself bought a rock that does look as a meteorite form a guy from Morocco or whatever, and it is just a basalt or a concretion or whatever.
Here's an educational gallery on the subject
http://meteorites.wu...eteorwrongs.htm

#18 Glassthrower

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 11:19 PM

Some good points were raised here. And I'd like to thank oblako and Cygnus for contributing here, but it highlights some the issues inherent in any field where the potential for fraud is present, or where self-proclaimed experts can unwittingly be passing bad material onto the market.

Provenance is important, but provenance typically consists of paper labels, bills of sale or trade, chain of custody information (if available), and as much documentation as possible. This is less important with common distinctive meteorites where there is no incentive to scam because the profit potential is too small. But, in most other cases, it is best to acquire specimens from a reliable source.

Oblako raises a good point - what if a legit dealer gets tricked by his supplier and unwittingly offers bad specimens. That can happen. It has happened in the past. And given the increased attention given to meteorites in recent years, the incentive to scam is increasing because the market is growing.

What separates the reliable dealers from the fly by night characters is how they handle issues like authenticity. Most good dealers will refund the purchase price of any sold specimen that is later revealed to be wrong in some way. Speaking for myself, if a buyer is unhappy for any reason, I will do whatever it takes to make the buyer happy in the end. If that means a full refund, or store credit, or an exchange, or a combination of those, then that is what I will do. It rarely happens, and I've never had it happen because of an authenticity issue.

Experienced dealers offer a layer of protection to collectors. We have trained eyes and the first-hand experience of handling, cutting, and preparing many types of meteorites over the years. We have seen it all - rare meteorites, common meteorites, meteorwrongs, and every possible imposter. While none of us are infallible, we do catch a lot of the flotsam and cull it from the market to increase the overall integrity of the market place. The odds for the buyer are better that way.

Buying straight from an unknown seller on an auction site, or directly from overseas can be risky, and there is no guarantee such a seller will stand behind the specimens.

That's just been my experience and many other dealers will say the same - but the real test is when it comes time to honor their promise to stand behind a deal. Some don't walk the walk, and they talk a good line to get a sale and then vanish into the woodworks if a problem arises later. The best dealers are always available and ready to make things right.

If anyone hasn't noticed yet, take a look on eBay or around the internet right now - no reputable dealers are offering the new Russian Chebarkul-Chelyabinsk meteorite yet. Why? Because the market for it is unstable and rife with scams at this time. We are all waiting for reliable trustworthy specimens to hit the market, and they haven't yet - despite the apparent flood of offerings on eBay.

Best regards,

MikeG

#19 sealevel

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Posted 08 March 2013 - 10:53 AM

I was thinking of starting a collection of meteorites till I read this(your) post,,better do some more homework before I start


Skinnyonce & all those concerned,
Here's a start - Go to the link below. Fear not. Enjoy. Good men will always outwit the bad guys. Russ is a regular here on the Forum. He has a world class meteorite collection and is an ardent amateur meteoritisist.

http://www.meteorite...rg/dealers.html



Davio R.

#20 careysub

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Posted 09 March 2013 - 11:22 AM

Couldn't a meteorite be authenticated with some assurance as being a meteorite (not necessarily the particular fall claimed) by examining its structure under suitable magnification?

In particular 3-D printing depends on melt-fusing a polymer matrix to make the final piece. Regardless of exotic polymer feed formulations that might be developed at some level of granularity an amorphous melt matrix is going to look different from the natural crystallized matrix of a meteorite.

Then of course there is the specific gravity. It would be pretty sophisticated work to develop a 3-D printing feed material that both had the correct microstructure and density to match real meteorite material.

It is a bit like carving a replica out of wood. It may have exactly the same shape as the original thing, but isn't the same material and doesn't pass for being the original under even the most cursory examination.

I imagine good meteorite fakers would normally follow procedures similar to archaeological artifact fakers - who replicate the original materials as closely as possible and mimic the original processes of formation and aging. For a meteorite this might involve cementing a mineral powder matrix with a mineral binder, then flame fusing, surface staining, cleaving, etc. I don't think 3-D printing really adds anything that does better than that.

#21 Glassthrower

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Posted 09 March 2013 - 12:40 PM

Carey is right, there are properties inherent to meteorites that cannot be replicated on Earth - such as the formation of chondrules. Sure, a sophisticated 3D printer might be able to make a convincing model of a chondrule that is visually indistinguishable from the real thing. But, there are a battery of tests that can determine if a sample is indeed a meteorite.

For one thing, chondrules formed over a period of millions of years as a result of condensation from the solar nebula, thus they contain trace elements and isotopes that are not present on Earth. Also, we can test for cosmic-ray exposure times, the rate of radioactive aluminum isotope decay, oxygen isotope measurements, electron microprobe (for elemental composition data), etc. Simpler tests include thin-sectioning for petrographic analysis and scanning electron microscope.

I don't forsee a 3D printer being able to fool all of those tests without being detected.

It is much easier to buy a common recent fall, like Chergach or Bassikounou, and then misrepresent that meteorite as another of great value. For example, a seller on eBay was recently caught trying to pass off a specimen of Oum Dreyga for the new Russian Chebarkul-Chelyabinsk meteorite. Eagle-eyed members of the meteorite community caught the scam and exposed it. But this is a very real problem and has happened more than once in the meteorite world.

The average collector cannot analyze a specimen in a lab, so if a forgery can fool the casual eye, then it is likely to succeed in deceiving the buyer. And to many eager or inexperienced buyers, any fresh chondrite stone looks like any other fresh chondrite stone. And they might be surprised to discover later that their prized Chebarkul meteorite is actually a less-remarkable Chergach imposter.

Martian meteorites contain trapped gases that match the Martian atmosphere - that would be hard to fake with a 3D-printer.

Best regards,

MikeG


#22 MeteoritesEire

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Posted 10 March 2013 - 06:21 AM

completely agree with careysub........
It's simply not possible to fake a high end meteorite.It would collapse under the most basic of scrutiny.It will never happen-it would take 4 billion years to make a convincing fake ;-)

#23 CygnuS

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Posted 10 March 2013 - 10:24 AM

Thank you everybody for your well informed responses.
I'm starting to feel confident that the good guys will always outwit the bad guys when it comes to fakes.
Glassthrower, this "battery of tests" is something that I assume would be needed if a person wanted to buy an ultra expensive meteorit but what about mid-range meteorites? (say 500-2000 US dollars) When an relatively inexperienced buyer wants one in that price range what should they ask for? Having the meteorite pass the visual test that the reputable dealer put it through is nice but should the tests be more extensive as the value of the meteorite goes up? Of course it would have to be within reason. Nobody would pay for 700 dollars worth of tests to confirm the value of a 900 dollar meteorite.

#24 Glassthrower

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Posted 10 March 2013 - 01:39 PM

Hi Cygnus,

Exactly - the testing gets very expensive and the number of qualified individuals and labs is limited. During the last 20 years, the flood of meteorites from the Saharan desert has overwhelmed the labs with common chondrites that have comparatively little to teach us. Many institutions and universities have stopped accepting unsolicited samples for analysis. They will now deal only with veteran hunters or dealers who have a history with these labs.

An electron microprobe will unmask any fake in moments, but it's a precision piece of equipment that costs over a million dollars and requires training to operate. An entire university might use that same microprobe for different purposes - the geology department, the physics department, planetary sciences, chemistry, etc. Time on the equipment is booked in advance and is rationed out to grad students and others who are doing less valuable work, such as analyzing unsolicited rock samples for strangers.

The advanced layman does have resources at their disposal though - XRF guns, magnetic susceptibility meters, thin-sectioning, and even a simple nickel test can help determine what a sample really is. An XRF gun can give a basic elemental analysis in seconds, and a magnetic susceptibility meter can determine if a chondrite is an L, LL, H, or something else.

Another factor is training and areas of expertise. For example, a facility that does elemental analysis testing of rock and soil samples for oil exploration or the mining industry may be qualified to tell you if your sample contains X parts per million of a given element, but they are probably not qualified to deliver an authoritative answer on what petrologic type a meteorite may be. It's outside their area of expertise. I see this problem a lot when people email me with photos of an Earth rock that some local geologist told them is a meteorite.

The meteorite community confronts this issue by breaking it down into two rough but distinctly-different determinations :

1) identification - is a given sample a meteorite at all?

2) authenticity - is a given meteorite what the seller claims it is? In other words, is a piece of Ensisheim really a piece of that historic fall, or is it a piece of an entirely different and more common find?

The first one (ID) is fairly simple and almost any experienced collector or dealer can determine if a rock is a meteorite or not, even if it is convincing (in one way or another) visually.

The second one, authenticity, is more problematic. Authenticity is determined by a combination of factors, but it is not nearly as definitive as identification.

Let's take a hypothetical micromount crumb that is offered as "Ensisheim" by a fictional seller. Let's say that this crumb is quite small, perhaps 2mm x 5mm, and it only weighs about 10 or 20mg. It's not much to look at and on the current market, it might sell for anywhere from $10 - $40. There's not much profit potential there for a greedy scammer, but a busy scammer could slowly accumulate a pile of proceeds by selling off many many fraudulent crumbs over a period of time. Most scammers are in a hurry to make large sums of easy money. Selling fake crumbs requires much more time and effort than most scammers are willing to expend to make $10 or $20. So, generally speaking, the vast majority of such specimens being offered by reputable dealers are legit. They have no logical motive to knowingly let a fake or misrepresented crumb pass through their hands.

But how do we know the dealer isn't honestly and unknowingly passing off a bogus stone without realizing it? What if the dealer was tricked? This can happen. It has happened before and will probably happen again. But it is a very rare occurrence and does not happen nearly often as one might expect - the meteorite community is small, close-knit, and very adept at self-policing. In any case, good dealers keep records and every buyer of a "recalled" or "tainted" batch of specimens is tracked down, one by one, and money is refunded. The bogus specimens are pulled from the market, the damage is mitigated, and the seller takes a hit to their reputation. If the fraud was intentional and knowing, then the seller is exposed as a criminal and blacklisted by the community.

But, back to the hypothetical Ensisheim crumb. Let's say I have one I bought on eBay from John Q. Public, and now I am unsure if it is really a piece of a historic meteorite, or a piece of somebody's garden landscape rock. There are ways to test a specimen to narrow down the range of possibilities, and some of these tests can be done by the layman.

Break off a tiny portion and do a nickel test on it. If the result is negative, then it is not a meteorite. A negative test for nickel is almost always a sign that a sample is not meteoritic. If it tests positive, this is a good sign, but it is not definitive on it's own. It just means the sample contains nickel, which is much more common in meteorites, but is still found on Earth.

Find somebody with an XRF gun and have them analyze the sample. This is quick and relatively easy process, but finding a XRF gun may not be easy. I know somebody with one, but I won't pester him to use it unless it's important. I'd love to have one myself, but they are a little too pricey for me to invest in. The technology is linked below. The hand-held version is what the meteorite world refers to as an "XRF gun". If a genuine sample of Ensisheim is available for comparison, one can simply compare the two readings and see if they match.

XRF - http://en.wikipedia....ay_fluorescence

Genuine Ensisheim is an LL6 chondrite. LL chondrites have a known magnetic susceptibility range. If the hypothetical sample is actually an H-chondrite NWA imposter, a magnetic susceptibility meter will reveal this discrepancy. If the sample reads as anything other than an LL chondrite, then it's a fake.

And the dealer's own eye can catch certain distinctive features - shock veining, brecciation, metal content, texture, and grain size can all be distinctive in some way. For example, a big slice of Portales Valley with it's distinctive metal melt veins/rivers would be hard to imitate.

For larger specimens that are not crumbs, it becomes even easier to spot the fakes.

In the end, the provenance of the specimen is the ultimate trump card. Provenance is a product of the seller/dealer and that dealer's sources, and the integrity of both. For example, a certificate of authenticity (COA) is only worth the paper it is printed on, if it doesn't have someone or something reputable standing behind it.

Best regards,

MikeG

#25 CygnuS

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Posted 10 March 2013 - 10:51 PM

Wow Glassthrower! I was extremely impressed with this response. Thank you so much for putting so much time and effort into it. I sincerely appreciate it.
With people like you watching over the meteorite community it's certainly in good hands. You're also a great asset to this fantastic website. Thank you for all your contributions here and thank you for making me feel more confident in purchasing meteorites.
Once again, I'm impressed!






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