Over nearly two decades at Central Michigan University, geology professor Mona Sirbescu has disappointed a lot of people hoping their rock discovery would actually be a fallen star.
“For 18 years, the answer has been categorically ‘no’—meteor wrongs, not meteorites,” she joked.
But when a man from Grand Rapids asked her to examine a large stone he had lying around for 30 years, the joke, it turned out, was on Sirbescu.
“I could tell right away this this was something special,” she said in a statement, recounting the biggest potential meteorite she’d ever been asked to audit.
The boulder, according to a CMU news release, is a 22-plus pound meteorite—the sixth-largest recorded find in Michigan, and potentially worth $100,000.
“It’s the most valuable specimen I have ever held in my life, monetarily and scientifically,” Sirbescu said.
And yet, the rock has been propping open the door of a Edmore, Mich., barn since the 1930s.
The current owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, obtained the piece of debris in 1988 as part of the farm he bought. During a walk around the property, the man asked about the large, odd-looking slab propped against a door.
“A meteorite,” the farmer reportedly said, explaining that he and his father saw it come down one night some 50 years before. The next morning, they dug the object out of a crater, still warm from its travels to Earth.
Though it came with the property, the nameless man took the rock with him when he left the farm a few years later, and continued using it as a doorstop for another three decades. He even sent it to school with his kids for the coolest show-and-tell ever.
Then, in January, everything changed: A confirmed meteoroid exploded in the atmosphere and rained down on southeast Michigan, providing locals with bits of cosmic currency.
“I said, ‘Wait a minute, I wonder how much mine is worth,’” the man told CMU.
Enter Sirbescu, who examined the alien object—an iron-nickel meteorite with about 88 percent iron and 12 percent nickel, a metal rarely found on Earth. A colleague at the Smithsonian Institution validated her conclusion.
“What typically happens with these at this point is that meteorites can either be sold and shown in a museum or sold to collectors and sellers looking to make a profit,” Sirbescu explained.
The Smithsonian has its eye on the Edmore meteorite, named for its landing location; if the nation’s attic doesn’t buy the entire rock, the slice used for analysis will stay in its collection.
A mineral museum in Maine is also considering placing a bid; the owner, a collector, said she might even purchase it herself.
No matter the final price tag, the mysterious man promised to give 10 percent of the sale value to Central Michigan University to help fund students in earth and atmospheric sciences.
“Just think,” Sirbescu said, “what I was holding is a piece of the early Solar System that literally fell into our hands.”
Ancient meteorites may provide clues to understanding the genesis of life on Earth. And a new set of fast radio bursts could help explain the celestial web between galaxies. Read more about outer space here.