Friday, September 14, 2007

Valuable meteorites

The Willamette Meteorite is the largest meteorite ever found in the U.S. and weighed 15.5 tons when it was found in 1902 in Oregon. The majority of the meteorite can be found at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, although chunks of it have been traded and sold. (American Museum of Natural History Photo)

On the farm, whenever my family walks the fields, we keep an eye on the ground to see if we can spot any meteorites.

Like other farmers, while cultivated the land or picking rocks each year to place into rock piles, we’ve uncovered different rocks each year that may deserve a second look.

We’ve carried all kinds of rocks home, big and small, and pondered why they look or weigh the way they do. We’ve seen rocks that look like a dinosaur stepped in them; found Indian arrowheads and hammer heads; found rocks filled with fossils and even gems such as red garnets.

But we always wanted to find a meteorite. That seemed the most mysterious and valuable of all, in our minds.

My father, nearing 80, has collected the most rocks and he seems the most interested in finding this treasure. Every summer he brings a few rocks home and deposits them by the house and invites all of us to inspect his latest find. He weighs suspected meteorites against other rocks, checks if they’re magnetic, and does other tests. He tries to guess what the stones are composed of, such as maybe those rusty ones are made of iron, and likes to show the rocks to guests to the farm.

A couple years ago, researchers on a meteorite search project that visited farms in the area came to our place. Dad proudly brought out the rocks he was positive were meteorites. He was disappointed when they were shrugged off as just being … rocks. Earth rocks, unfortunately.

However, Dad still believes some of these rocks came from elsewhere.

Each year meteorites continue to be found. For example, last month in Saskatchewan, in Canada, a meteor was identified after being originally picked from a field in 1999. The man who found it was using it to prop a door open, until he finally called researchers after seeing news coverage about the project to identify meteors.

There might be another reason people want to check their fields for meteors: they can be quite valuable. A 30-pound piece of the Willamette Meteorite is currently up for sale and expected to earn about $1 million. Mind you, the meteorite is famous: it was the largest one ever found in North America, and sixth largest in the world. When it was found, it weighed about 15.5 tons, although researchers believe it might have weighed about 20 tons when it first struck the earth 10,000 years ago.

According to Associated Press, “The meteorite was discovered in the Willamette Valley by a part-time Oregon miner, who removed it from land belonging to a local iron company. The miner charged a quarter to view the meteorite until a court order compelled him to return it to the iron company in 1905.”

Then, AP said, a New York philanthropist paid $20,600 for the rock and donated it to the American Museum of Natural History in New York — far away from Oregon. (To see more about the meteorite, see this website.)

A native tribe in Oregon has made a claim of ownership for the meteorite, since they believe, the meteorite “was sent to earth by the Sky People,” said AP. The Clackamas Indians are also trying to fight the sale of the chunk of meteorite. The current owner, Darryl Pitt, had gotten the piece from the museum. The AP story explained: “The meteorite belongs to the Museum of Natural History, which swapped Pitt the small piece now up for sale in return for his half-ounce piece of a meteorite from Mars.” Pitt also claims “roughly 20 pieces of the Willamette are in the hands of private collectors,” said AP.

Obviously meteorites have a fair bit of value and trade interest. AP explained the sale of the Willamette Meteorite chunk is part of an auction. “The upcoming auction includes several other interesting items, such as the Brenham meteorite, recovered two years ago from a Kansas wheat field (estimated sale price $700,000); a complete meteorite slice, in the shape of a home plate, with translucent crystals ($100,000); and a chunk of a meteorite that killed a Venezuelan cow ($4,000).”

Maybe I should go home and help my father search for meteorites…

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1 comment:

Cornelia Becker Seigneur said...

Fascinating Post! I live in the city of West Linn where Ellis Hughes discovered the Willamette Meteorite in 1902. I am penning a book Images of America: West Linn for Arcadia Publishing and will feature the meteorite on the cover. My blog

talks about my project's progress.
Best wishes, Cornelia Seigneur

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