The Sciences

Meteorite Dealers Hunt for the Perfect Rock

From Morocco's mountains to Arizona's deserts, collectors, scientists and profit-minded middlemen are searching for The Rock. 

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Photo Credits: Ernie Mastroianni

Tucson-based dealer Adam Aaronson, of Sahara Overland, puts a 174-pound chunk of the Agoudal meteorite on display at the 2014 Tucson Gem and Mineral show. The meteorite was found in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. 

Photo Credits: Ernie Mastroianni

Nickel-iron crystals form a geometric pattern on the face of an octahedrite meteorite. The patterning is called Widmanstätten patterns after Count Alois von Beckh Widmanstätten, a director of the Imperial Porcelain works in Vienna.

Photo Credits: Ernie Mastroianni

Bite-sized rust-colored pieces of the Moroccan meteorite known as Agoudal are on display at Simon Hmani's room in Tucson. They typically sell for a dollar a gram. 

Photo Credits: Ernie Mastroianni

Bob Cucchiara examines a drum full of pieces from Argentina’s Campo del Cielo meteorite.

The chunks in his hand came from much larger pieces, which are blown apart using liquid nitrogen. 

Photo Credits: Ernie Mastroianni

Scientists, dealers, collectors and nomadic tribesmen have formed a surprising alliance that's advancing the study of space rocks — and making, for some, a tidy profit.

Every year, this varied cast of characters comes together in Tuscon, Ariz., to display their finest meteorites at the annual Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase. 

Here, meteoriticist Laurence Garvie holds a large piece of a famous carbonaceous chondrite known as Murray, which fell in Kentucky in 1950. 

Read the accompanying feature article, "Playing the Meteorite Market."

Photo Credits: Ernie Mastroianni

The dozens of meteorites on display in Michael Farmer's room at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show include a slice of octahedrite (top center) found in the Atlas Mountains of northwest Africa. Below it is a stony iron pallasite, found in the Siberian area of Russia. 

Photo Credits: Ernie Mastroianni

Laurence Garvie’s Arizona State lab houses the world’s largest university-based meteorite collection. More than 30,000 specimens are stored and studied here.

Photo Credits: Ernie Mastroianni

Laurence Garvie uses a microscope to closely examine a thin slice of a meteorite at the Arizona State University Center for Meteorite Studies in Tempe. 

Photo Credits: Ernie Mastroianni

This 47-pound piece of the Canyon Diablo meteorite was found in 1897 in Coconino County, Ariz. It was a remnant of the meteorite that created the famed Barringer Crater near Winslow, Arizona.

Photo Credits: Ernie Mastroianni

Morocco-based meteorite dealer Mohammed el Khalil Sbai displays a large uncut meteorite outside his room at the Hotel Tucson City Center in February 2014.

Photo Credits: Ernie Mastroianni

Edwin Thompson holds a large slice of enstatite chondrite meteorite that fell in Alberta, Canada, in 1952.

He sells his wares, as many do, from a hotel room at the Tucson city center. The bed of the hotel room is visible behind his display cases. 

Photo Credits: Ernie Mastroianni

A 300-pound iron meteorite bears a sold sign at the hotel room of dealer Michael Farmer, who would not say if he got his sticker price of $250,000.

Read the accompanying feature article, "Playing the Meteorite Market."

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