Russian Scientists Battle Meteor Speculators With Reward Offer

Russian scientists escalated their hunt for meteor fragments from last week’s explosion over the Urals region by offering market rates in a bid to deter speculators.

The Russian Academy of Sciences and the State University of Chelyabinsk, where the blast occurred, are offering rewards for certifiable meteorites, the two groups said in a statement.

The amount of the reward depends on the size of the piece and may exceed “the average market price,” Olga Schapina, a spokeswoman for the university, said by phone. Uncertified meteorites are being advertised on the Internet for as much as 500,000 rubles ($16,500).

The Feb. 15 blast over the Chelyabinsk region, home to 3.6 million people, was the largest of its kind since the Tunguska event flattened more than 800 square miles (2,100 square kilometers) of remote Siberian forest in 1908. The Chelyabinsk meteor was about 17 meters in diameter and weighed about 10,000 tons before it hit the Earth’s atmosphere and exploded with the force of about 33 Hiroshima nuclear bombs, according to the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Hundreds of thousands of fragments may be scattered over hundreds of kilometers, ranging in size from 1 millimeter to several centimeters, Victor Grokhovsky, a member of the academy’s meteor committee, said by phone.

Fraud Probes

“The more we collect the more we’ll learn,” Grokhovsky said. Some of the biggest pieces will probably never be found, though, because they fell deep into the taiga, he said.

Scientists from Urals Federal University in the regional capital Yekaterinburg found the first 53 fragments near Chebarkul Lake, about 80 kilometers west of Chelyabinsk, on Feb. 16-17, according to a statement from the school.

Police in Chelyabinsk are investigating sales of alleged meteor pieces via websites by anonymous people for possible fraud, the local unit of the Interior Ministry said Feb. 18.

At least 26 meteor pieces were being offered on one Russian website,, the country’s largest online classified advertising company, at 6 p.m. Moscow time today. Prices ranged from 500 rubles to 50,000 rubles.

One of those vendors, who identified himself as Denis Smirnov, said he recovered about 30 fragments in a snow field 20 kilometers from downtown Chelyabinsk and won’t participate in the reward program because he doesn’t trust officials.

“They could take months doing the certification process and then simply steal my find,” Smirnov said by phone from Chelyabinsk.

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