For years, David Mazurek had used the same 22.5-pound rock to hold open the shed door on his Edmore, Michigan, farm. But after witnessing a meteor shower in the state – and having seen other people cashing in on debris that had fallen from the sky – Mazurek started to wonder just how significant his extra-large doorstop might be. And what he discovered was shocking – especially when he found out the value of his rock.
Before Mazurek bought his Edmore farm in 1988, the property’s owner gave him a tour around the land. And when they reached the farm’s shed, the former noticed something out of the ordinary: there was an unusual rock holding the door open.
Mazurek couldn’t help himself: he had to ask what kind of rock he was looking at. What’s more, according to Central Michigan University News in 2018, the farmer responded, simply, “A meteorite.” You see, the farmer knew the rock had come from space – or so he said – because he had watched it fall from the sky long ago.
The farmer recalled the night it had happened in the 1930s, in fact. Indeed, he said that he and his father had watched as the rock had fallen from the sky and onto their land. According to CMU News, he had recalled to Mazurek at the time, “It made a heck of a noise when it hit.” But the farmer and his father had waited until morning light to see what had actually landed.
So it was that when the new day arrived, the farmer’s father dug up the meteorite from the crater that its impact had created. And even though it had sat out on the farmland overnight, the rock was apparently still warm to the touch when they found it. Subsequently, the meteorite found its use as a farm shed doorstop. It may, then, have appeared pretty mundane by this point – but either way, the farmer offered it to Mazurek with the property that he had just purchased.
Little did Mazurek know, though, that he had just inherited something very special indeed. Meteoroids orbit the Sun in outer space and, if they make it to Earth, they’re classified as meteorites. These consist of solid material, which can come from a slew of different sources. Indeed, most derive from either asteroids or comets, although sometimes a meteorite appears that originates from a moon or other planetary body.
Interestingly, 95 percent of meteorites that travel through the Earth’s atmosphere comprise of stone, while the remaining 5 percent are iron. However, because the latter proves stronger against the protective layer that surrounds our planet, iron meteorites make up 80 percent of the total number of discoveries.
And, even if they do survive the trip through the atmosphere, stone meteorites prove harder to uncover. For one thing, they look like Earth’s rocks, meaning that in some places they blend in with the landscape. Plus, they weather more quickly than iron meteorites, so they might disappear before someone discovers them.
But plenty of meteorites have been discovered on Earth – almost 40,000, in fact. And experts estimate that around 500 meteorites fall onto our planet each year – but that less than ten end up in human hands. The rest land in the ocean or in isolated areas where no one will ever find them.
Still, the meteorite found on the Edmore farm fell into an even more exclusive category. That rock counted as a recovered fall, meaning that someone witnessed the meteorite dropping from the sky and then successfully found it afterward. And as far as experts know, only 1,100 such cases exist.
Meanwhile, in order to make it to Michigan, the meteorite – like all others – had to pass through the Earth’s atmosphere. And coming from space, these bits of rock have very low temperatures. They are so cold, in fact, that when they make their way through the atmospheric friction and alight, they sometimes remain chilled at their core.
But small meteorites are apparently not hot once the hit the ground. Indeed, NASA’s Near Earth Object program manager, Donald Yeomans, told the organization’s website, “Small rocky meteorites found immediately after landing will not be hot to the touch.”
However, larger pieces might hold onto their heat. Marshall Space Flight Center’s Bill Cooke told NASA, “If we got hit by something large enough to leave a crater, the fragments might be very hot indeed.” And that’s precisely what had happened with the Edmore doorstop. That’s right: the farmer had found the meteorite in its crater in the morning, and the rock still felt warm.
Regardless of whether a meteorite stays hot or feels cold once it reaches Earth, though, these rocks all have one thing in common: they’re rare – and therefore valuable. For instance, in April 2016, 83 different meteorites went on sale at Christie’s auction house in London, and they each came with a hefty price tag.
Indeed, the haul included some of the most well-known meteorites to have fallen to Earth’s surface. The Valera meteorite, for one, stood as the only rock known to have fallen from space, struck an animal and killed it. And the auction house expected it to rake in up to $9,000.
But that value paled in comparison to another item up for grabs, the Brenham Meteorite Main Mass. The rock weighed in at a whopping 1,433 pounds, and it had a unique shape based on the way it fell through the atmosphere. Indeed, rather than spinning its way down to Earth, the Brenham meteorite stayed in position until it hit the ground – leaving the rock in a U-shape.
And on top of its huge size and strange shape, the Brenham meteorite had a bit of sparkle to it, too, thanks to olivine minerals on its surface. The stunning piece of space also had a huge price tag on it. Indeed, Christie’s estimated that it would fetch anywhere from $750,000 to a whopping $1.2 million.
And yet, most people considered the Chelyabinsk Meteorite to be the auction’s most alluring offer. On February 15, 2013, it had entered the atmosphere as a 62-foot, 12,000-ton rock. But the Earth’s outer layer started putting pressure on the meteorite, to the point where it exploded.
Although the Chelyabinsk meteorite still hovered some 19 miles over the Russian city of the same name, the rock’s explosion wreaked no small amount of havoc. Across six cities, the blast damaged more than 7,000 buildings and burst the windows of 100,000 abodes. The flash, meanwhile, resulted in short-term loss of vision for some, while fragments from the shattered windowpanes caused injury too.
For the Chelyabinsk Meteorite – and a piece of its one-of-a-kind story – a bidder would have to shell out up to $450,000. James Hyslop, a science and natural history specialist at Christie’s, explained why the meteorites would grab such high prices. And it all had to do with what we do and don’t know about space.
As Hyslop told the Daily Mail in 2016, “These meteors give you a sense of wonder, as seeing something extraterrestrial is always very strange. It’s a strange thing to hold a piece of another planet or a rock from space, as for most of us it is the closest we can get to being there.”
For Mazurek, though, the meteorite doorstop on his farm didn’t strike up the same wonderment – at least, not at first. You see, although he eventually left the Edmore farm, he brought the rock with him and continued using it as a hefty doorstop. And his kids also took the rock with them on show-and-tell days at school.
But this all changed in January 2018. At that time, Mazurek noticed that other Michigan meteorites had made the news. More specifically, an in-state meteor shower had dropped multiple pieces of space debris, and he found out that some locals were getting cash by selling the meteorites that they had collected.
And, according to CMU News, the headlines made Mazurek think. He recalled, “I said, ‘Wait a minute. I wonder how much mine is worth.’” So, he got in touch with a friend who had studied geology at CMU. And they pointed Mazurek to Mona Sirbescu, a faculty member in the College of Science and Engineering.
But while Mazurek probably looked forward to the meeting with excitement, Sirbescu went into the appointment with skepticism – but for a good reason. You see, in her nearly two decades with CMU, she’d had many people approach her and ask her to inspect suspected meteorites. And as she told CMU News, “For 18 years, the answer has been categorically. ‘No.’”
However, when Mazurek showed Sirbescu his supposed meteorite, she said that she “could tell right away that this was something special.” And yet of course, she’d need science to back up her suspicions. So she took the rock in for testing to see what materials comprised the mass.
With the help of X-ray fluorescence equipment, Sirbescu analyzed the rock and found that it contained 88 percent iron and 12 percent nickel. It’s rare to find the latter metal on Earth, although it is a common element in iron meteorites. And with that, the geology professor knew that Mazurek had a genuine piece of space rock.
Not only that, but Sirbescu also gave Mazurek an estimation as to the value of his more than 22-pound meteorite – the sixth-largest ever to be found in Michigan. Amazingly, she predicted that it could bring in up to $100,000. Yes, she told CMU News, “It’s the most valuable specimen I have ever held in my life, monetarily and scientifically.”
To be extra sure that the rock really was that valuable, though, Sirbescu sliced a piece from Mazurek’s meteorite. She then polished the sample and mailed it off to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., so that geologist Catherine Corrigan could corroborate her finding. And the latter quickly confirmed Sirbescu’s notion about the extra-large chunk of rock. What’s more, she added that it made sense for it to be used as a doorstop – as it had been, of course.
As Corrigan told the Huffington Post in 2018, “The fact that it was used as a doorstop is actually not at all uncommon. Iron meteorites are heavy – pure, iron nickel metal – and tend to be great for such things.” On the other hand, she noted that such exposure to the elements meant that the meteorite wasn’t as well-preserved as it would have been in a museum container designed to prevent oxidation.
To that end, Sirbescu told CMU News that the space rock would have two potential futures – one of which could have it kept within said specialized containers. She explained, “What typically happens with these at this point is that meteorites can either be sold and shown in a museum or sold to collectors and sellers looking to make a profit.”
The Smithsonian stood as one potential buyer, in fact; after all, they could display the hefty meteorite in one of their museums, you see. Regardless, Sirbescu said that the institution would keep the slice that she had sent over for analysis. And they also promised to continue referring to the rock as the Edmore meteorite.
Perhaps the Smithsonian’s desire to purchase depended on the results of their further analysis, though. Indeed, it turned out that they, too, had cut off a piece of their slice and sent it to University of California, Los Angeles, professor emeritus John Wasson – who, according to CMU News, is considered to be the “guru of iron meteorites.”
For his part, Wasson would look further into the meteorite’s composition to decipher its chemical components. And if the meteorite contained rare elements, it could become more valuable for Mazurek. Indeed, it would make it an even more desirable buy for any museums or collectors who are interested in space debris.
Even without a final destination for the meteorite, however, Mazurek and Sirbescu did know some things about its future. For starters, the former farm owner promised to donate ten percent of the sale price of his meteorite to CMU. And by doing this, he hopes to provide future funding for students in Earth and atmospheric science fields.
Meanwhile, despite not knowing the dollar amount her department would receive, Sirbescu said that the university had already gained so much from having access to the meteorite. For one thing, her students got to see up close the thing that they had studied for so long in textbooks.
Plus, Sirbescu noted that the meteorite gave a fresh perspective on the planetary system that has surrounded Earth since time immemorial. As she put it, “Just think, what I was holding is a piece of the early solar system that literally fell into our hands.”
At this point in time, though, it’s unclear whether or not Mazurek has successfully sold his meteorite – or how much he received for his find if he did trade it on. But for some people, his story might ignite a desire to try and uncover a space rock of their own. Indeed, according to Scientific American, that task can be as easy as following their meteor-finding steps.
First, the experts advise that you get permission to look for meteorites. Indeed, finding one in a national park or on privately owned land means it’s the property of the landowner. After that, look for a spot where a dark black rock would stand out against the landscape. They suggest that a terrain with fewer rocks is best, in fact.
The experts also advise people to seek out new meteorites rather than dig for old ones. To that end, a metal detector could be helpful. That’s because most meteorites contain some amount of magnetic materials, so they would set off the alarm. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the magazine implored that you share your findings with scientists who could gain a bit of knowledge from the rocks from space that you uncover. And who knows: maybe one day you, too, might own something that’s out of this world.