During her 18 years at Central Michigan University, Mona Sirbescu, a professor in the Department of Geology, often heard people ask if the rock they found was a meteorite. “For 18 years, the answer has been categorically no,” says Mona. Now that’s changed.
Earlier this year, a man in Grand Rapids, Michigan, asked her to study a large rock that he had owned for 30 years. She was skeptical, but she agreed to meet him anyway. When the man arrived, he pulled out of his bag the largest potential meteorite she had ever been asked to study.
“I knew right away that this was something special,” Mona says. She found that the rock is actually a 10-kilogram meteorite, and it became the sixth largest recorded in the state of Michigan. Its cost can be about $ 100 thousand.
The man, who chose to remain anonymous, received the meteorite in 1988 when he bought a farm in Edmore, Michigan, about 50 km southwest of Mount Pleasant. When the farmer was showing him around, they went into the barn and the man asked about a large unusual stone that held the door open.
“It’s a meteorite,” the farmer said. He said that in the 1930s, together with his father, he witnessed his nocturnal noisy fall to their plot. In the morning, they found a crater and dug it out. The meteorite was still warm. The farmer told the man that since the meteorite is part of the property, he can take it for himself.
The new owner lived on the farm for several years before moving on with the stone. He kept it for 30 years — he also used it as a door stop, and for the presentation he carried it to the school where his children studied.
The meteor that broke out in Michigan in January of this year changed his life path when he read the stories of people who found and sold pieces of meteorites. “I said to myself: Wait. A geologist
friend at Carnegie Mellon University referred him to Sirbesk in the Department of Science and Technology. She took the stone to one of Brooks Hall’s laboratories and examined it with an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer. The meteorite turned out to be iron-nickel, with 88% iron content and 12 % nickel-a metal that is rarely found on Earth.
Iron meteorites usually consist of about 90-95 % iron, and the rest is made up of nickel and trace amounts of heavy metals, including iridium, gallium, and sometimes gold.
To confirm the assessment of the find, as well as for its correct classification, Sirbescu made a section of the meteorite and sent it to her colleague from the Smithsonian Institution, who approved her conclusion. “At this stage, meteorites are usually sold for display in a museum or to collectors and merchants,” says Sirbescu.
The Smithsonian Institution is considering buying the meteorite for display. If it is not possible to buy the whole stone, then its section will remain in the collection. “They agreed to name the meteorite Edmore,” says Sirbescu.
The Smithsonian also sent a sample to John Wasson, a retired professor emeritus in the Department of Planetary and Space Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. “He is considered the guru of iron meteorites,” says Sirbescu. It will perform a neutron activation analysis to determine its chemical composition. There is a possibility that the analysis may reveal rare elements that may increase its value. The Maine Mineral Museum has also considered buying the meteorite, and the owner-a collector-says he may buy it.
Whatever amount the owner of the meteorite received, he promised to give 10 % of the sale value to the university, which will use the funds to finance student activities. No matter what the amount is, Sirbescu believes that she and her students have already won. “Just think about it, what I was holding in my hands is a piece of the early Solar System that literally fell into our hands.”