Meteorites: out-of-this-world investments

Matchless Canyon Diablo Meteorite © Christie's
The Matchless Canyon Diablo Meteorite

Money may not grow on trees, but it occasionally falls from the heavens. Chris Carter explains how to net it.

Last month, a six-foot-wide meteor exploded over Michigan, lighting up the night sky. Meteorite hunters across the US scrambled to the Midwestern state, with meteorite collector and dealer Robert Ward among them. Ward travelled from Arizona, 1,500 miles away, to be the first to get his hands on the fragments of space rock, along with Larry Atkins of Cosmic Connection Meteorites, according to the American Meteor Society.

“Two days ago, this was hundreds of thousands of miles past the moon, and now I’m standing here holding it in my hand… It’s been a real good day,” said Ward, who runs Robert Ward Meteorites, reports the Daily Mail Online.

You can understand his glee. Meteorites – the technical name given to fragments of rock and metal from meteors – are big business. Take, for example, the Matchless Canyon Diablo Meteorite from Robert Ward Meteorites – it is the star attraction of Christie’s Deep Impact online sale, which runs until 14 February. This is an iron octahedrite meteorite hailing from Arizona’s renowned Meteor Crater, but it originated in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter some four billion years ago.

“Evocative of a Henry Moore, this sculptural form was part of the molten iron core of an asteroid that broke apart – a portion of which was deflected into an Earth-intersecting orbit,” Dr Alan Rubin, of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at the University of California, explains in a catalogue note.

The meteorite ploughed into the Arizona desert around 49,000 years ago with the force of a hundred atomic bombs. The fragments, which were ejected for more than 11 miles, are known as Canyon Diablos. “They are the quintessential American meteorites prized by museums and private collectors everywhere,” says Rubin. This particular specimen is expected to fetch between $150,000 and $250,000 at the auction.

The significant gap between the lower and upper estimates is perhaps a reflection of the difficulty in putting an exact price on a specimen that is rare in a market that has really only existed since the 1970s. Yet, the magic of meteorites is that they “are truly something alien that members of the public can have on their shelves”, Dr Laurence Garvie, of the Centre for Meteorite Studies at Arizona State University, told the Financial Times in November. In most cases, “there’s no intrinsic value in them because they’re just stones”, he adds. “But it’s the excitement.”

In 2016, a similar sale of meteorites held by Christie’s in London made £570,875 in total – Christie’s will no doubt be hoping that there is still plenty of excitement around this week.

Close up of a pallasite © Christie's

 

ET’s crystal ball

Pallasites are a class of extremely rare meteorites, making up fewer than 0.2% of known samples. They take their name from Peter Pallas, the 18th-century German scientist who first classified them (although not as meteorites, as he didn’t believe they had come from the sky).

Now they are among the most dazzling of the lots in Christie’s sale (see above). Formed at the boundary between the mantle and the core of an asteroid, these speckled specimens feature gem-quality translucent olivine crystals, which are also known as peridot, set in an iron-nickel matrix.

One example in the sale is a Seymchan Sphere, named for the area in Siberia where it was found. This “extraterrestrial crystal ball”, with its olivine crystals, looks like an alien world, notes Christie’s, “at once both natural and artificial — much like Italian artist Arnaldo Pomodoro’s 1974 sculpture, Sfera”. It is valued at between $15,000 and $25,000.

The sale also features an “Imilac pallasite partial slice”, which is valued at $8,000 to $12,000. Cleaved from a meteor found in the Atacama Desert in the Andes in Chile, Imilac is among the most coveted of all pallasites.

The most highly valued pallasite (between $25,000 and $35,000) is a partial slice of Esquel pallasite (pictured), named after a town in Argentina. Esquel was the first pallasite material used in modern jewellery. A giant slice is on display at the American Museum of Natural History.

Auctions

Going…

A collection of Victorian Valentine’s Day cards dating from around 1880 look set to fetch around £100 tomorrow at Hansons London auction room in Teddington. “It was love at first sight,” explains auctioneer Charles Hanson, in the Evening Standard. He found them in an old shoebox in Cambridgeshire. “Giving people the chance to buy a genuine Victorian Valentine’s Day card in time for the most romantic day of the year – surely there can be nothing more romantic?”

Gone…

A chest of drawers that arrived at John Taylors auction house in Louth, Lincolnshire, turned out to contain a surprise – a hidden drawer with around 30 items of jewellery, mostly adorned with animal pictures. These “reverse crystal intaglios” were popular with “both ladies and gentlemen in the late Victorian and Edwardian period”, says auctioneer James Laverack on BBC News. Half of the items were sold for £10,000 at an auction held last week.