An Auction from Outer Space

Drive past Donley’s Auction House on Union Road and the marquee reads: “Meteorite Auction, May 19.”

Here is the official press release:

“Donley Auctions is pleased to announce a Meteorite Auction May 18, 2019, featuring the collection of Christina Hollis and Ronald Hubbs. This impressive collection with over 400 pieces features multiple museum grade pieces including Canyon Diablo, Campo del Cielo, Sikote Alin, multiple classified NWA chondrites, an extensive collection of beautiful Seymchan slices, and the largest EL4 chondrite known to exist. The auction will also include a collection of astronaut autographs and collectibles.”

For rock hounds, geology enthusiasts, and serious meteorite collectors that information is enough. If the above paragraph has made your eyes pop or your pulse race, then mark May 18 on your calendar and drive out to Union at 10 a.m.

If, on the other hand, a large EL4 condrite or a collection of Seymchan slices sound like items on a menu or obscure sea creatures, then FOLLOW ME INTO A NEW WORLD!

I drove up to the auction house to interview Laura Hansen, the coordinator of the meteorite collection to be auctioned at Donley’s. Hansen is a lovely young woman with a friendly smile and eyes that sparkle with enthusiasm for the collection of rocks she’s been assigned to curate.

She handed me a piece of rock and said, “You are holding something millions of years older than our earth. All these pieces are from outer space, and are older than anything that originated here.” She pointed to glass cases lined with tagged pieces of rock. “400 pieces like this, all gathered in one place outside a museum is unheard of!” she declared. Then I met the EL4 chondrite. I touched it.

It is named “NWA 10952.” It weighs 17, 208 grams, which is almost 38 pounds. According to Hansen, “It was recovered in Northwest Africa in 2005 and sold to an American collector at the Munich show the same year. In 2015 it was acquired by the Hollis Collection and has since been confirmed to be an EL4 chondrite, 1 of only 17 known and by far the largest.” Now it will be auctioned on May 18. The starting price? $75,000.

Clearly, there is big money involved in the meteorite collecting world. But there is also awe, intense interest, and a chance to truly touch the past. There are pieces with asking prices of $10, too. That day I touched a piece of rock that came from the moon. I marveled at pieces that were perfectly smooth and polished, but arrived that way from outer space.

Some sparkle with minerals and gems like pieces of jewelry. In fact some meteorites are used to make jewelry.

Do you think you have a meteorite in your own rock collection? Every one in the Donley collection has been authenticated. That process begins with a visual analysis by an expert. If it seems that a piece is likely an authentic meteorite, it can be sent to a special lab for chemical and high magnification analysis which could result in official certification. On the day of the auction, Dr. Paul Sipiera, President of the Planetary Studies Foundation, who worked with Hansen to prepare the two collections that comprise the Donley group, will be present. He would be happy to look at any suspected meteorites anyone brings to help begin authentication.

Natural history museums all have meteorite collections you can view. Under glass. If you want to touch something from many millions of miles and years away, you might want to stop by the Meteorite auction at Donley’s. If you want to own a piece of Mars or the moon, bring a little money and join in the bidding.