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A thought concerning lunar/martian meteorites

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#1 abbsconey

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 07:04 PM

After doing some reading of late & Mike's comment in another thread,i've noticed that the two appear to be the most prized & valuable. Would there be any cause to drive the value down on either? Say a large find or maybe in the future, an influx of imported lunar samples by the next expeditionary team? Pound for pound, or milligram for milligram for that matter, these 2 items should cause all other precious metals to pale in comparison to the most unique of all on this planet i.m.o.

#2 Glassthrower

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 07:44 PM

Hi Todd,

You are absolutely right about lunar and martian samples - pound for pound, they are more rare than gold, platinum or diamonds.

There is one "problem" with lunars and martians for the collector, and it's not the obvious aspect of scarcity.

Yes, overall they are very rare in comparison to more common meteorite types. But, up until the late 1990's, the only lunar and martian meteorites were those found in Antarctica - not a friendly place and under governmental control. Each and every meteorite found in Antarctica sits in a research collection which is off limits to those outside of academia and government. Procuring a sample of these Antarctic meteorites (even the "ordinary" non-lunar/martians) is next to impossible at any price. What's more, even if you are wealthy/lucky enough to visit Antarctica as a tourist, you cannot keep any meteorite you find because it's illegal to do so.

All of that changed in the late 1990's during what we called the "NWA-Rush". Some African countries, especially Morocco, have lenient rules regarding removal of meteorites. In fact, Morocco is one of the only places on Earth where a foreign national can visit and leave with legally-obtained meteorites. Up until recently (last couple of years), a literal flood of meteorites came pouring out of North Africa. By sheer law of probability, some of these were going to be Martian and Lunar. For the very first time, ordinary collectors could own a piece of Mars or the Moon. The very first pieces to reach private collectors were fantastically tiny and astronomically expensive. Today's prices on lunars and martians are actually very attractive compared to the early days of the NWA rush. Now there are more verified lunar and martian samples that I can count or easily recall.

Now the price on lunars and martians is driven by a combination of factors :

1) type. Some Martians and Lunars are more desirable (to collectors and science) because of their chemical composition and/or their origin-location. For example, NWA 482 comes from the Far Side of the Moon. It fetches a much higher price than a more common lunar meteorite. Plus, the allure of owning something from "the dark side of the moon" is very attractive to collectors, and dealers know this. Just as there are dozens of "common" meteorite types, there is a plethora of lunar and martian types.

2) total weight in existence. Also known as "TKW". A meteorite that struck the Earth weighing 2000 pounds is going to be a lot cheaper than one that only weighs 200 grams. Of course, this is not always the case, but it usually is. If the owner of the "main mass" sits on the meteorite and doesn't sell any of it (or very little), then the amount on the market will not reflect the TKW. I could have a 2000 pound meteorite under lock and key in my storage unit and if I only offer 10 grams to the collector's market, it may fetch a higher price than some lunars or other rare types of which there is more on the market.

3) dealer markup. Unlike diamonds or precious metals, there is no standardized price structure. You can't open the Wall Street Journal and see the latest meteorite prices. So, one dealer may charge $1/gram for a meteorite, while another dealer might charge $20/gram. It just depends on the motivations of the dealer. Some dealers are more profit-minded than others.

4) timing. Like any rare commodity, the price of meteorites fluctuates by the laws of supply and demand. Sometimes the causes for these fluctuations are not readily apparent. For example, the Moroccans are getting more savvy about selling their meteorites to foreigners. They realize that early on in the game, they were taken for a ride by western buyers. Over time they learned that some meteorites are worth a king's ransom (like Martians, and rare achondrites like ureilite and brachinite), and they have learned to detect these rare types. Bargains are getting harder to find as the Moroccans have starting offering their wares directly over the internet for top dollar. The days of slick western dealers paying pennies on the dollar for the rarest types are over, or almost over. Prices are climbing again, especially for the rarities.

And one other thing about all meteorites, not just lunar and martian - the Saharan supply is drying up, slowly. There are only so many meteorites laying out there in the dunes, and it is very lucrative for the Moroccans to find and sell them. The Sahara is being farmed out. Worse, only so many fall every year, so the supply is not being replenished as quickly as it's being depleted. Sooner or later the best unweathered NWA meteorites are going to run dry and the prices will climb steeply because dealers will not be able to easily procure more inventory to sell. I wish this was just dealer hype, but it's not. As a collector, I feel the pinch just like everyone else, just a little less because I have good sources - but eventually those sources will fall prey to supply and demand just like everyone else.

China, the US, South America, and Australia all have desert regions that may be future sources of meteorites if the Sahara runs dry (no pun intended). But, other countries strictly control who can take what out of the country. In the US, you can't go onto someone else's property and remove the meteorite - it belongs to the landowner. If it falls on US government land, it belongs to the government. The same goes for the Gobi desert which is under Chinese control. Morocco is a rarity in this respect.

Of course, there is more to the Sahara desert than just Morocco. Many meteorites originate in Algeria - a country that is NOT friendly to outsiders, especially Westerners. Same for Libya and Egypt. Many meteorites are sitting in war zones or in the middle of civil wars. It's just not safe for westerners to go stomping around the majority of the Sahara looking for rocks. ;)

Regards,

MikeG

#3 abbsconey

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 08:10 PM

Thanks for the insight Mike. Quite mind-numbing when you think of what might be located in the un-friendly provinces that may someday become public for profit.

As i'm new to this, are the desert region's better grounds for discoveries due to the lack of vegetation & moisture?

I've been hunting northern Pa. for years, roughly 30 minutes south of Cherry Springs state park, & i've often wondered the possibilities of meteorites being located in the region. Of course it's mountainess & wooded, being state land i'm sure they would frown upon scavenging. That said, what is the history of finds in non-arid country?

#4 Glassthrower

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 08:48 PM

Exactly. The Sahara is a perfect place for meteorites to be preserved because of the lack of precipitation. Meteorites (with their high metal content) have been floating around out in space for billions of years without any oxidation. The moment a meteorite hits the Earth, it starts to "terrestrialize" and oxidize. Over time, most iron meteorites are reduced to a pile of oxidized shale - a rustball. Stony meteorites fair a little better, but over time they weather, oxidize and break down. Some meteorites which have lain in the desert for thousands of years lose their outer crust due to weathering action (being sandblasted) and they start to look more and more like Earth rocks. This is another reason why deserts are good for hunting meteorites - some deserts, like the Sahara, have very few native rocks, so any rock is likely to be a meteorite. Now imagine a meteorite falling into the mountains somewhere. Not only will it start to rust quickly because of moisture, but it may be lost amongst the native rock. Areas that are thick with black native rocks are the bane of meteorite hunters. Worse, some natural basalts are attracted to a magnet, so the usual test of magnetism is not of much use. It takes a skilled eye to find a meteorite under such conditions.

I once read a statistic, I don't recall the exact number, but a lot more meteorites fall to Earth than one might first expect. But, 75% of the Earth is covered in water, so 75% of the meteorites are lost the moment they hit the water. Some fall in swamps or heavily wooded areas. Much depends on the terrain as well as the climate.

The key to finding meteorites in non-desert areas such as forests and mountains is to watch for bolides and fireball reports. The best hunters are ready to jump on a plane (or jump in the truck) and travel to any location where a fall is suspected. Getting there quick makes all the difference. These reports can come from news media, stargazers, internet lists/forums, etc. Unfortunately, there is no worldwide reporting apparatus for fireballs that I am aware of.

If a meteorite falls in your area, your best chances are to get hot on it's trail as quickly as possible.

Having said all of that, I have never found my own meteorite in the field. 100% of my collection was purchased from other dealers. One day that will change and I have plans to start chasing bolides. :)

Regards,

MikeG

#5 edwincjones

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 08:58 PM

Another thought:

My first meteorite purchase was one of Mike's Mars Rocks. At 7mg, it ain't much to look at, but it IS a little piece of Mars. My second purchase is a little piece of the moon for $50-I doubt that it will be a "looker" either. But now when I observe either Mars or the Moon, I know that I have touched them, as they touch me. That makes it worth the entry price.

edj

#6 Glassthrower

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 09:22 PM

I agree Ed. It's fascinating (and humbling) to hold a piece of another world. To look into the eyepiece and observe Mars, knowing you own a piece of that same planet, is quite a thrill. Ditto for the moon.

The very first time I held a "moon rock", it was a tiny tiny chip, barely 1mg. But I was completely in awe of it. My wife and I gathered around it and held it gingerly in our palms. After holding several dozen moon rocks, the thrill has faded a bit, but it's still one of my favorites.

#7 abbsconey

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 09:44 PM

I suppose nobody has ever retrieved any galactic debris from the Tunguska incident. If i'm not mistaken it was 20 years on until somebody went into the remote area to explore.

#8 Glassthrower

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 10:27 PM

To this date, all that has been found from Tunguska is a tiny amount of near-microscopic spherules. The body that impacted there was utterly vaporized on impact - this can happen if certain conditions are met. If the object is big enough and traveling fast enough, it will explode in catastrophic fashion, leaving almost nothing behind. I'd like to have one of those tiny spherules, but AFAIK there are none available on the market.

#9 abbsconey

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Posted 23 April 2008 - 07:20 PM

Or it could have been a nuclear powered rocket ship that had a meltdown...... :hmmmm:.... :lol:

Here's a neat link to the current classed Martian's:
http://www.meteoris.de/mars/list.html

#10 abbsconey

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Posted 23 April 2008 - 07:22 PM

& lunar:
http://www.meteoris.de/luna/list.html

#11 meteorite

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 02:53 AM

Here are my thoughts.

If the next flight to the moon were by NASA, then the rocks brought back would be treated the same as those brought back by the Apollo missions and not for sale. If it were a private enterprise, well yes they would be forsale (probably) at an enourmous price. Very few people reading these words would be able to afford one, but you could still afford a small fragment of a meteorite.

Any and every place on earth has an equal chance of being hit by a meteorite. Stars do not necessarily fall on Alabama, as a popular state slogan goes. Just as many meteorites have fallen here in Georgia as Antartica but the climate in Georgia is not friendly to meteorite preservation. So yes, Pa. as well.

The Tunguska event was an airburst, nothing impacted the groud per se. As far I know, science stil does not have an agreed upon explnation for what exactly the object was. I recently started a literature review of Tunguska. I will report back here, to the CN forum, when I am finished.

As a collectable, it would be neat to have a piece of tree bark from the impacted area!

-Walter Branch


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