Got gumption? Make money chasing space rocks

Got gumption? Make money chasing space rocks

 

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Looking for a way to make a few dollars during your RV excursions? Need a little exercise — or does your ATV or dirt bike? Here’s an interesting way to put it all together: meteorite hunting.

meterorite
Photo: NASA

As an RVer, how often have you sat around the campfire at night under the open sky and watched for “shooting stars”? We know those little streaks of light across the night sky aren’t really stars, but rather small chunks of space-traveling rocks and minerals blazing away in the heat of entry into earth’s atmosphere. The chunks that survive entry and land on earth are meteorites.

There are people who will pay good money for meteorites. How good? Sold by weight (in grams — 28 of those grams to an ounce), even common iron meteorites fetch 50 cents to $5 per gram. More scarce stone rocks can call for $2 to $20 a gram, and really unusual space rocks can fetch fabulous amounts as high as $1,000 a gram. Wow!

space-rock-hunter
Photo: NASA

So how do you find a meteorite? Looking for space-generated rocks can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Get rid of as much “hay” as possible and the meteorites will stand out easier. That means location. In open, non-rocky desert areas or dry lake beds, a stone lying about is an immediate suspect. The same is true for ice or snow fields.

What makes a meteorite stand out from common earth rocks? What scientists call a fusion crust on the meteorite, formed when the rock heated up from friction while flying through earth’s atmosphere. Most often this gives the outer surface of the rock a black layer (a few are lighter). Meteorites are not usually symmetrical or spherical like river rocks. You probably won’t find many with rough or sharp edges, as the edges are often smoothed by the friction of atmospheric entry.

A few other giveaways for meteorites: They often have more mass than typical earth rocks, feeling “heavier for their size.” Since they often contain metal, a magnet will often be attracted to them. Some meteorite hunters will drag strong magnets behind their vehicles while driving through the desert.

Think you’ve found a meteorite? It’s always good to document your find. Take pictures of the rock “in situ,” or right where you found it. Have a GPS? Record the exact coordinates of your find.

Once you have your suspect meteorite home, there are several “home tests” you can do to judge your rock. A simple series of tests is presented on meteorite-identification.com. If you still think you’ve got a meteorite, there are commercial and university labs that will check out your find. Google search “universities that will examine meteorite” for example, and look for a school near you.

Think you’ve got a special rock-hunting bug? Said by many to be the “bible” of meteorite hunting, look up O. Richard Norton’s book, “Rocks From Space.”

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