Christie's rare meteorite auction expected to fetch out-of-this world bids

christie's rare meteorite auction expected to fetch out-of-this world bids

The Lunar Necklace is expected to sell for between US$140,000 and US$200,000.

If you’ve ever wanted to wear a piece of the moon as a necklace, own a Martian paperweight or go bowling with a fragment of the asteroid Vesta, Christie’s has a sale that should pique your interest. Just beware that some of the prices may be out of this world.

The auction house is currently hosting a collection of space rocks under the title Deep Impact: Lunar, Martian and Other Rare Meteorites. Many of the items have no reserve, and a few are expected to fetch prices of little more than a thousand dollars. But a slice of Mars will likely see bids of five figures, and the centrepiece of the sale, a lunar necklace, has an estimated sale price of US$140,000 to US$200,000. The auction closes on March 28 at 11 a.m. ET.

Darryl Pitt curated the 68 lots, which include a variety of meteorites that have been sliced to show their interior details, sculpted into spheres and pyramids, or just left in their natural shapes, complete with terrestrial weathering. He points out that the Henbury meteorite, found in Australia a century ago after 4,200 years on the ground (and a previous 650 million in deep space), has three shallow sockets. “It’s like the emoji ‘Whoa!’” he says.

christie's rare meteorite auction expected to fetch out-of-this world bids

The Henbury meteorite seems to be wearing an expression of awe.

The lunar necklace is likely to inspire similar emotions. Crafted from a meteorite found in the North West African corridor of the Sahara Desert, each of its 48 beads weighs approximately 3.66 carats (0.7 g) and is composed of olivine, pigeonite, augite, ilmenite and white anorthite, a mineral that is rare on Earth but common on the moon.

“The moment you first hold a piece of the moon in your hand is spine-tingling,” says James Hyslop, Christie’s head of department, scientific instruments, globes and natural history. He says the auction house has been holding an annual online auction of meteorites since 2014. That year, the sale brought in $US634,000. In 2021, during lockdown, that figure rose to US$4.3-million, while last year’s sale brought in $US1.3-million.

Hyslop credits a mix of scientific interest and sheer wonder for the popularity of meteorites. “They aren’t bound to borders,” he notes. “They’re something that inspires humanity.” He notes that buyers have come from every continent except Antarctica – where, ironically, many meteorites have been discovered on the snow-covered plains.

Pitt says meteorites have become increasingly treasured (and expensive) since he held his first natural-history auction of extraterrestrial material in 1995. “Are these estimates going to seem like a pittance a few years from now?” he says. “Absolutely.”

But that interest has proven fruitful. “More so than any other scientific discipline, meteoritics has benefited from the participation of the public,” he says. “You have a new generation of meteorite hunters, and suddenly more and more meteorites are being found.”

And while a purchased meteorite might end up locked away in a private collection, Pitt notes that, to be verified, it must be sent to scientists for analysis and study – and they get to keep a bit of it. “Only then is it [officially] a Martian meteorite or a lunar meteorite,” he says. Such scientific scrutiny also helps stem the proliferation of bogus space rocks, or what Pitt calls “meteor-wrongs.”

But meteorites remain vanishingly rare, and those from specific locations like the moon and Mars even more so. Pitt points out that the total world supply of lunar material, including that brought back from NASA on the Apollo missions, is less than 1,400 kg and could fit in the trunk of an SUV. Martian meteorites are rarer still, with less than 350 kg known to exist. Even with meteorite seekers risking their lives for finds – dangerous arctic and desert environments are prime hunting grounds – “the supply cannot keep up with the demand.”

In addition to the lunar necklace, the sale includes a 15 cm sphere of material from the asteroid Vesta, weighing in at a bowling-ball-heavy 5.2 kg. The catalogue points out that this is the largest sphere on Earth originating from a parent body that can be seen with the naked eye, and includes an image of Vesta – which, it helpfully notes, is “not part of the lot.”

There are also several Martian meteorites for sale, including NWA 7034, a shiny black 55 g cusp of rock notable for containing nearly 20 times more water than any other Martian sample. It is two billion years old, and may have been blasted off the planet by an asteroid impact at what is now Karratha Crater, some 10 million years ago.

Many non-planetary meteorites are also for sale, some with provenances that combine the timescales almost beyond comprehension. Lot 40, expected to fetch between US$1,500 ad US$2,500 (at press time, the opening bid was just $100), is a piece of a meteorite that landed in southwestern Nigeria after slicing through the atmosphere at 20 km/s on the afternoon of April 19, 2018. Prior to that it had been drifting through space for 4.56 billion years, longer than the Earth’s existence.

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