They really are from out of this world, and the prices are astronomical. For those who have everything they need on Earth, what they now want is a little bit of space. Meteorites are attracting the attention of celebrity collectors who have pushed the price of the rocks – which have hurtled through space for hundreds or even thousands of year before crashing into this planet – tenfold over the past decade.
More than 70 of the most spectacular meteorites ever found will go under the hammer at Christie’s auction house next week in a sale that is expected to generate millions of pounds. Included in the Deep Impact auction are meteorites embedded with gem stones and others have suffered such an impact from blasting through the atmosphere at up to 160,000mph that they resemble sculptures by Alberto Giacometti or Henry Moore.
A slice of a meteorite that has been scientifically proved to have fallen from the moon is expected to sell for between £180,000 and £250,000. The chemical composition of others has been compared to samples of Mars atmosphere brought back by Nasa’s expeditions to Mars to prove that they are Martian meteorites. In recent years, some large rocks have sold for millions.
James Hyslop, the Christie’s auctioneer overseeing the online auction, said meteorites have experienced a surge in popularity as they capture so many people’s imaginations and are exceedingly rare. The weight of every known meteorite is less than the world’s annual output of gold, and some have sold for 10 times their weight in gold.
“Everyone has looked up at the night sky and thought ‘what is out there?,” said Hyslop. “They appeal to everyone from children to elderly people. There is something very special about an object that really has fallen from the heavens.”
Some of the world’s richest people and a fair few celebrities are expected to keep a tab open on the Christie’s website when the sale goes live on Tuesday.
Naveen Jain, an Indian multimillionaire who is attempting to build spacecraft to mine gold and platinum on the moon, owns the Earth’s largest private meteorite collection valued at more than $5m (£3.6m). “Many of these meteorites are billions of years old,” Jain said. “Imagine holding that in your hands – the earliest part of the solar system – it feels amazing.”
Jain, who made billions in early internet companies before the dotcom bubble burst, said people sometimes dismiss his collection as “just rocks”. “But when you see it under the microscope you say ‘oh my God, what you really have in your hand is space gems’,” he said.
“When you’re holding a piece of moon in your hand it’s not just a piece of moon – it is really symbolic of what we as humans are, which is explorers. When we get inspired what do we do? We look up.”
Other collectors are said to include: film director Steven Spielberg; Nicolas Cage, who starred in Color Out of Space, a 2019 film about a meteorite that brings alien life to small-town Massachusetts; illusionist Uri Geller; and the cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Elon Musk, the world’s richest person and chief executive of electric carmaker Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, is also said to be a big collector. Hyslop said he was “sure he [Musk] has meteorites in his collection, but I wouldn’t like to say that with any authority”. He added: “If you’re friends with him, it’s an obvious gift.”
Cassandra Hatton, who oversees space auctions for rival auction house Sotheby’s, said meteorites have experienced a jump in popularity with younger buyers who are collecting because they find it “super-cool to have something from space”.
“People in their 20s, 30s and 40s are buying them,” she said. “They are something that appeals to everyone, you don’t have to any deep scientific background to understand them and let them spark your imagination.
“Whether you’re in your 90s or your 20s you can look at it and say that’s really super-cool, and that’s not what you get with 17th-century French manuscripts.”
Hyslop cautioned that the meteorites up for auction next week could give the public a “warped view” of what most meteorites look like. “We are offering the best of the best; most of them do not like what you see here,” he said. “Most of them do just look like rocks.”
Declaring that a rock from space is definitely a meteorite is also complicated. “You can see it fall out of the sky and find it on the ground, but it is not a meteorite until it has been sent away and examined by recognised scientific institution,” Hyslop said.
Many of the prospective meteorites are sent to Sara Russell, a professor of cosmic mineralogy and planetary science at the Natural History Museum in London, which has one of the world’s largest collections with about 5,000 specimens.
Russell said that, unfortunately and frustratingly, nearly all of those sent in for analysis are just rocks. “Millions of people think they’ve found a meteorite, but most are wrong,” she said. “But those that are really meteorites are fascinating. The vast majority are from asteroids from the beginning of solar system. They tell us about the formation of planets.
“They destroyed life, for example the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. But they also brought water to Earth, making the planet a habitable place and kickstarting life.”
Original posted at www.theguardian.com