Four decades ago, Apollo missions hauled over 840 pounds of moon rocks back to Earth for scientific evaluation. None of the dozen astronauts who collected the samples received a personal specimen -- not even the late Neil Armstrong.
Nor has anyone else, for that matter: The rocks are considered National Treasures. Hypothetical appraisals suggest that even a tiny one, if made available, would be worth millions of dollars.
On Oct. 14, you can still purchase your own piece of the moon, however. Heritage Auctions is putting 127 meteorite lots valued at more than $2 million on the block at the Fletcher- Sinclair Mansion in New York. The featured item: A four-pound lunar meteorite expected to fetch over $340,000. Heritage calls the piece “worthy of the most important natural history museums in the world.” Pre-bidding has already reached $170,000.
Granted, this specimen wasn’t brought to Earth by an astronaut, a reason it is less valuable than say the Apollo samples, says Geoffrey Notkin, author of “Rock Star: Adventures of a Meteorite Man.”
Rather, it was blasted out of the lunar surface by a collision with an ancient asteroid, traveled to Earth in the form of a meteor and eventually survived a fiery entry into its atmosphere.
A moon rock is a moon rock, whether it has human historical significance or not. This one, called Dar al Gani 1058, is the largest lunar meteorite ever offered at auction. When it was found in 1998 in Libya, geologic and chemical testing confirmed its lunar origins. It forms part of only 135 pounds of lunar material available on Earth outside of the Apollo cache.
Not surprisingly, because of the rarity of space rocks, a good market exists for them. The total world inventory is roughly equivalent to the annual production of gold, less than 3,000 tons. Metallic meteorites, the type most commonly found, average just a few dollars per gram, while specimens from the moon, like DaG 1058, or from Mars, command $1,000 to $2,000 per gram.
Most meteorites don’t originate on the moon or Mars (hence are cheaper), but come from the plentiful asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars where, scientists say, a small planet may once have existed.
The heaviest -- metallics, mostly of iron and nickel --come from that hypothetical planet’s center (core); the stony-irons from its middle (mantle); and the stones from its surface (crust).
A 63-pound Sikhote-Alin from the asteroid belt is expected to sell for between $25,000 and $32,000 at the Heritage auction. The wrinkled gray metallic is part of a large witnessed fireball over eastern Siberia in 1947. Because the event was so recent, the piece is in superb condition (no rust). Owners can see “sculpting” done by the atmosphere, what meteorite collectors call thumb prints.
“It really is nature’s art,” says Notkin, a longtime meteorite collector and member of The Explorers Club. “Not only is it a marvelous messenger from deep space, but a functional process of our planet. Without friction from our atmosphere causing the surface to melt during entry, it never would have acquired those stunningly beautiful features.”
Notkin has consigned some of his own pieces to Heritage: a triangular 66.5-pound Muonionalusta from Sweden which contains the rare mineral stishovite and is thought to be the oldest meteorite found on earth (more than 800,000 terrestrial years); a 0.33-pound Vaca Muerta stony-iron found in Chile’s Atacama Desert; and a 1.5-pound Seymchan from Siberia.
The Muonionalusta ($7,000-$9,000) and Vaca Muerta ($3,000- $4,000) were found by Notkin and co-host Steve Arnold while filming their Discovery Channel show Meteorite Men. The Seymchan ($3,000-$4,000) is a stony-iron from Notkin’s personal collection and features beautiful green and black olivine crystals.
Some pieces in the sale are quite reasonable, depending upon size, type, origin and condition. Notkin, for example, is also listing a two-pound Canyon Diablo from the world’s most famous meteor crater in Arizona. Priced at less than $1,000, the rust brown metallic is a relative bargain for those of us who are not rich.
Other auction highlights include a meteorite that resulted in the only documented fatality - a cow - and a piece of the famous Peekskill fireball that fell 20 years ago near New York and hit the trunk of a Chevy Malibu. But the “Herbie Hancock Meteorite,” from Mars, is especially interesting to collectors -- and musicians.
Found in Algeria’s Sahara Desert in 2005, this rarity is expected to fetch between $7,500 and $9,000. Although small (just 4 grams), its surface displays the glossy “burnt-sugar” fusion crust of the most coveted Martian meteorites.
Besides being from the red planet, it has another provenance: Musician Herbie Hancock carried the rock in his pocket in at the 25th Anniversary Gala Celebration of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in 2011. All proceeds from the sale will go to the institute.
(Jim Clash is the author of “The Right Stuff: Interviews with Icons of the 1960s,” (AskMen, 2012). He writes on adventure for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this column: James Clash at Jamesmclash@gmail.com
To contact the editor responsible for this column: Manuela Hoelterhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.