Russians already finding a black market for meteorite pieces

One of the things living under a famously corrupt communist regime will give you is a healthy black market, and Russia has a long and storied tradition of providing a black market for just about anything. Back in the 80s it was blue jeans and imported cigarettes—today, it’s meteorite fragments.

The New York Times and Bloomberg BusinessWeek are both reporting that the illegal sale of meteorite fragments has prompted something of a meteorite gold-rush. Sure, there are the predictable sources like an eBay post, listing a Russian meteor fragment for $200. However, NYT says things are getting much more interesting on the ground in the Ural mountains.

One woman who had a meteorite crash through her roof had a man show up and offer her $60 for it—she haggled him up to $230 only to have a man show up later and offer $1,300. “Now I regret selling it,” she said. “But then, who knows? The police might have come and taken it away anyway.”

There is technically a process by which locals who find the rocks can get a legal title to keep them, with a laboratory charging 20 percent of the value of the meteorite as a registration fee. But it doesn’t sound like many people are opting for that route. From the NY Times:

[T]his is Russia, so the excitement became tinged with anxiety on Monday as unknown cars appeared, cruising the streets and bearing men who refused to answer questions but offered stacks of rubles worth hundreds, then thousands, of dollars for the fragments. Strangely, no authorities were anywhere in sight.

As speculators have descended on the region, local authorities have been less than accommodating in getting scientists the access they’d like to the fallen space rocks.

Viktor Grokhovsky, assistant professor of metallurgy at a nearby university, said “[i]t would be nice if the government coordinated with us, the scientists. When we want to be somewhere, they won’t let us near. We send up spaceships to asteroids to obtain this material, at great expense, and here it flew right to us.”

Meanwhile on, you can pay up to $3,300 for bigger meteorite pieces.

Like all things, I guess the meteorite black market is determined by supply and demand—and the last time Russia got a meteorite like this was 1908.