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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 October 2007, 21:46 GMT
Space rocks go under the hammer
This piece of a meteorite found in the Gobi Desert near Fukang, China, is a pallasite, studded with space gems.

Some of the world's most famous meteorites have gone under the hammer at a New York auction house in what is said to be the first sale of its kind.

The pieces were drawn from collections across the world and many examples are richly coloured and intricately patterned, some bearing gemstones.

A piece priced at $1.1m (0.53m) did not sell but an iron meteorite from Siberia fetched $123,000 (60,000).

And a US mailbox hit by a meteorite in 1984 sold for $83,000 (40,000).

"The results were stronger than anticipated with a near-perfect result," Bonhams meteorite specialist Claudia Florian said after the sale.

Bonhams, she added, hoped to sell the unsold lots "in the next several days".

Precious mailbox

Some of the 54 lots of "fine meteorites" for sale at Bonhams fell to Earth thousands of years ago.

SPARKLING STONES
A piece of the Brenham Meteorite from Greensburg, Kansas (image courtesy of Bonhams)

Only one is documented as having made a fatal impact.

The fatality, in the case of the Valera Meteorite which hit a field in Venezuela in 1972, was a cow.

"It's very rare to have a meteorite actually impact a living being... so now that particular meteorite is considered to be collectible," Ms Florian told the BBC before the sale. It was sold for $1,300.

A sliver of the meteorite which damaged Carutha Barnard's private mailbox in Claxton, Georgia, in 1984 sold for nearly $8,000 (3,900).

Crown jewel

Some of the lots originated in the UK's Natural History Museum or the US Smithsonian Institution but many come from the Macovich collection in New York, built up by enthusiasts whose interest in the stones was as much aesthetic as scientific.

With a price estimate of $1.1m, the piece de resistance for Sunday's sale appeared to be the "Crown Section" of America's famous Willamette Meteorite, discovered in Oregon in 1902.

The 13kg (29-pound) piece was cut from the rock as part of a meteorite exchange between the museum and collectors.

But that still leaves the American Museum of Natural History with about 15.5 tonnes (32,000 pounds) of the original.

In the event, the Crown Section did not sell, nor did the Brenham meteorite found in 2005 near Greensburg, Kansas, which had an estimate price of up to $700,000.

The Brenham features naturally occurring olivine gemstones.

Another non-seller was an historic piece from the l'Aigle Shower of 1803 in Normandy, France - a find which helped convince European scientists that rocks could, indeed, fall out of the sky.

An altogether more humble offering was four tiny stones - the smallest of them weighs just a gram - from a shower which hit Holbrook, Arizona, in 1912. That lot sold for $325.



SEE ALSO
Meteorite yields life origin clue
01 Dec 06 |  Science/Nature
Rare space rock 'a gem'
22 Jul 02 |  Science/Nature
Meteorite records early Solar System
05 Sep 00 |  Science/Nature

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