The £2m lump of rock up for auction

This $2m lump of moon rock is astronomical in more than one sense of the word. Chris Carter reports

Christie’s is “no stranger to astronomical sums of money”, says David Sanderson in The Times. “Astronomical items are rarer, however.” The auction house in London has put up for sale the fifth-largest chunk of the Moon that can be found on Earth. Hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago, an asteroid or comet smashed into the moon, spraying lunar regolith into space. Then, at some unknown point in time, NWA 12691, as this specimen is called, rained down over the western Sahara as part of a large meteorite shower. It was later found by a researcher working in the desert two years ago. 

The shower is thought to be responsible for at least 30 of the known lunar meteorites – a high proportion when you consider that Moon rock is one of the rarest substances on Earth. If you were to gather together the approximately 400kg that Apollo astronauts brought back from their jaunts to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s, and all of the additional 650kg of known lunar meteorites that have fallen to Earth naturally, “they would all fit comfortably inside a very small car”, says James Hyslop, head of science and natural history at Christie’s.

Moon rocks are identified by their textural, mineralogical, chemical and isotopic signatures. They can contain minerals that are rare or not even present on our planet. It’s little wonder, then that, as of last week, President Donald Trump’s administration was drawing up a legal blueprint to mine the Moon, called the Artemis Accords, according to Reuters. It’s not as crazy as it sounds, as Charles Stanley’s Garry White points out in The Daily Telegraph. “The ‘barren’ Moon is really a commodity sweet shop – with significant deposits of gold, iron, magnesium and titanium,” he writes. “Also buried below the surface are believed to be significant deposits of some of the most strategically important elements that are expected to underpin the economy of the future” – the “rare-earth metals” that are used to make everything from smartphones to medical-imaging systems. Currently, around 85% of the supply of these metals comes from China, something that is bound to grate with Trump given the state of trade relations between the two powers. And it’s not as if China isn’t also working on its own plans to start digging on the Moon.

Bowled over

But for now, Earth has to make do with what the Moon throws at it. That makes NWA 12691 rare, and especially so for its size. Weighing around 13.5kg, it’s bigger than anything the Apollo astronauts brought back and goes some way to explaining its £2m price tag. 

Christie’s is also offering 13 “aesthetic” iron meteorites for private sale. That collection is expected to fetch in the region of £1.4m. Bonhams in Los Angeles is holding an online auction of meteorites that runs until next Thursday. But it’s NWA 12691 that is perhaps most alluring. “Every time I see it in the warehouse the sheer size of it bowls me over,” says Hyslop. “Holding a piece of another world in your hands is something you never forget.”

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