A meteorite pierced a hole in a niche. It is now a collector’s item.
At an auction at Christie’s, bidding on a dog house did what a meteorite did three years ago: it went through the roof.
The rusting corrugated iron shelter – with a gaping seven-inch hole in the top – cost $44,100 earlier this week, more than double the amount scavenged by the alien rock that ripped through it. Meanwhile, an extremely rare lot at auction – billed as the third-largest Martian boulder on Earth and valued at up to $800,000 – failed to find a buyer when the sale closed on February 23.
Selling the niche may reveal something about what drives private collectors to own the rare items that fall to Earth from space. Beyond their age and the distance they have traveled, there is the notion of a close call: something unexpected and otherworldly fell from the sky and, in doing so, showed its destructive potential.
In some cases, the reminder of this power is more valuable than the rubble itself.
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“It’s incredibly unlikely for [a meteorite] touch something that is part of our everyday life.”
“It’s incredibly unlikely for [a meteorite] touching something that is part of our daily lives,” James Hyslop, head of scientific instruments, globes and natural history at Christie’s, told Mashable.
The story behind the niche began at 9:07 p.m. on April 23, 2019, according to its filing in the Weather report, a peer-reviewed meteorites publication. That night, a meteor shower bombarded a rainforest in central Costa Rica. Cameras on top of the volcanoes captured the fireball, an unusually bright meteor. A piece weighing nearly two-thirds of a pound crashed into the home of a German Shepherd. Coincidentally, his name was “Roky”.
Brazil’s Meteor Observation Network, University of Sao Paulo and State University of Sao Paulo discovered the trajectory of the meteorite, dubbed “Arguas Zarcas”, by reviewing four security videos and array cameras on board.
A note to concerned dog lovers: Roky survived the ordeal in better shape than her home.
Roky, a German Shepherd in Costa Rica, was unharmed by a meteorite that crashed into his kennel in 2019.
Valuing these astronomical objects at auction is more a matter of intuition, admits Hyslop. The only data Christie’s had to guide him was a mailbox dented by a meteorite from Claxton, Georgia, which sold for $83,000 in 2007.
A few years ago, Hyslop attended a meteor show in Paris. Outside in a glass box was a Chevy Malibu that had been hit by the Peekskill meteor in 1992.
“I just thought it was such a good piece of theatre,” he said. “It’s not just these meteorites that capture our minds. I mean, we all know the story of the asteroid that crashed into Earth and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. The impact of a meteorite is part of the story.”
“I just thought it was such a good piece of theatre.”
A meteorite hit a Chevy Malibu in 1992.
Credit: Ingo Wagner dpa / Picture Alliance / Getty Images
Scientists estimate that around 48.5 tonnes of billion-year-old meteorite material rains down on the planet daily, much of it vaporizing in Earth’s atmosphere or falling into the ocean, which covers more than 70% of the planet.
More than 60,000 meteorites have been discovered on Earth. The vast majority comes from asteroids, but a small chunk, about 0.2%, comes from Mars or the Moon, according to NASA. At least 126 have been identified as coming from the red planet.
For meteorites to be officially documented, the owner must donate much of it to an internationally authorized institution, such as a natural history museum. The institution will cut a piece to keep for sustainable scientific research.
“The impact of a meteorite is part of the story.”
An “Aguas Zarcas” space rock that crashed into a dog house auctioned off for $21,420 on February 23, 2022.
Christie’s auctioned off a piece of rock from Roky that weighed half the weight recorded in the Weather report. The meteorite is mostly covered in a fusion crust, caused by its fiery descent through the Earth’s atmosphere. Its front face shows a reddish-brown streak from when it crashed through the oxidized sheet metal roof. The meteorite, made of carbon compounds, sold for $21,420.
When Hyslop saw the unique remnants of the Costa Rica crash in the gallery, he thought it looked like an art installation.
“For me, it fits in very comfortably alongside some very cool contemporary artwork of the moment,” he said.