Tucson gem show is bedrock for meteorite fans

By Will Ferguson

Arizona Daily Star

Published: Monday, Feb. 6 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

He said he got into the meteorite trade through an early fascination with space, sparked by television shows such as "Dr. Who" and "Star Trek." Notkin and Kilgore described the art of hunting meteorites as an occupation involving painstaking research, tenacity and a good deal of luck.

"There is no rhyme or reason to where meteorites are," Kilgore said.

One of Kilgore's larger specimens is a 940-pound stony-iron pallasite meteorite he found in China. He said he traveled to northeastern China in the middle of winter to pick it up.

The hardest part was getting the big rock through customs. After proving the space rock wasn't some priceless sculpture or expensive gemstone, he persuaded the Chinese customs official to let him through — for a few hundred bucks.

He pointed out a small slice of the meteorite he had previously cut off. The polished surface was flecked with specks of gold-colored olivine crystals. He said the slice would cost about $25,000. He judged the entire rock to be worth $2 million to $10 million.

A meteorite's scientific value is far greater than its monetary worth, but many samples are bought and broken apart for resale as jewelry and artwork before they can be cataloged and studied, Kilgore said.

Kilgore and planetary lab associate professor Dante Lauretta founded the Southwest Meteorite Center in 2006 to make sure a large repository of meteorites exists for scientific study. The center allows scientists to study valuable meteorite samples free of charge.

He pointed to a small carbonaceous meteorite and said, "That has some of the oldest material man has ever touched"— more than 4.5 billion years old. "There is material in there that has never been subject to solar ray penetration," he said. "The deduction there is that it existed before the sun was ignited."

He pointed out another meteorite that fell in Australia in 1969. He said scientists have identified more than 80 amino acids in the space rock. "Those are the basic building blocks of life. This one has proved that organics can be produced outside of Earth's atmosphere," he said.

Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.azstarnet.com

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