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Rob Elliott, meteorite dealer
This one was very, very bright
 real 28k

Monday, 31 January, 2000, 09:18 GMT
Woman finds space fireball debris

The Natural History Museum is analysing the meteorites The Natural History Museum is analysing the meteorites

By BBC News Online's Damian Carrington

Meteorites which spectacularly crashed on the British Isles two months ago have been recovered. It is the first time the remnants of a fireball have been found for many years.

The golf-ball sized fragments of space rock were discovered lying on a local road by a grandmother, who wishes to remain anonymous.

Samples have been sent to the Natural History Museum in London and Dr Sara Russell, a meteorite expert told BBC News Online: "There's no doubt, they're definitely from a meteorite."

Booming explosions

The rock, billions of years old, fell to Earth at 2200 on 28 November, 1999. Witnesses in County Carlow, Republic of Ireland, said the fireball lit up the night sky and sent out booming explosions.

Justine O'Mahony of the Carlow People newspaper said: "It caused a lot of excitement. A lot of people heard explosions in the sky and talked about flashing lights."

Meteorite dealer and collector Rob Elliott, based in Scotland, told BBC News Online: "The reports of loud detonations gave me a strong suspicion that some part of the meteor would have survived."

So, Mr Elliott contacted the Carlow People, who ran a story telling local people that he would pay up to 20,000 for large pieces of the meteorite.

A second story a week later prompted the arrival of an anonymous envelope containing earth and 13 stones, ones of which turned out to be a meteorite. The lack of a customs declaration delayed the parcel.

It took a third story in the paper, and the dismissal of some crank calls, to flush out the person who found the fallen rocks.

First since 1865

The meteorites, totalling 220 grams in weight, are the first recovered in Ireland since 1865. And they are the first fallen rocks found anywhere in the British Isles since 1991.

Only 24 meteorites have ever been found in the British Isles.

Specks of metal flash from the cut meteorite Specks of metal flash from the cut meteorite
Meteorites can be extremely valuable, worth up to $50,000 per gram. The premium prices are paid for the rarest specimens, which are Martian and lunar meteorites.

The lunar rocks have been blasted off the Moon by an impact and have then fallen to Earth. Only three have been found outside Antarctica. The international treaty in place on the frozen continent means those found there cannot be sold.

Oddly, non-Antarctic Martian meteorites are more common, but still reach $4,000 per gram.

"Meteorites have really grown in value over the last few years," said Dr Russell. "The fuss in 1996 over the possible bacteria in the Martian meteorite really captured people's imagination and they really started collecting very seriously."

Very rare find

However, Mr Elliott claims he will seek only to cover his costs - 2,000 - with the Irish meteorite and will make specimens available to scientists.

The Natural History Museum will verify the space rock and will retain a piece for its collection by way of payment. The final stamp of authenticity is given by the International Meteorite Nomenclature Committee. Traditionally, the meteorite is named after the nearest post office to where it fell.

"We get several people bringing material into the museum every week," said Dr Russell. "But it is very rare that it turns out to be a meteorite. I have only classified one in the last year and that came from Tunisia."

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See also:
31 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
New Mars meteorite found
25 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Robot hunts down meteorite
27 Aug 99 |  Sci/Tech
Life on Mars - new claims
27 Aug 99 |  Sci/Tech
Water found in meteorite

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