In fact, there's a veritable black market for the sale of meteorites, much to scientists' chagrin. According to a piece by the New York Times last year, this black market has seen an explosion in size "mainly because of a rush of new meteorites arriving from North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula." Why these areas? As the BBC explains,
Meteorites land anywhere on earth and often end up in the oceans.
On land, they are most likely to be found near the Equator because it has the largest surface area, and particularly in the Sahara, as the dry climate helps to preserve them.
Providing they land on the flat hard pad rather than the soft sand dunes, meteorites are easy to spot in the desert and people will sometimes go in search of them if they see a meteor shower at night.
And though this black market for meteorites is surely a boon for local dealers and traders who sell the rocks "for prices between $11,000 and $22,500 an ounce" --gold, for comparison's sake is just $1,700 an ounce-- scientists who want to do research on the cosmic debris often lose out, either because private collectors snatch the rarities up first, or they cannot afford the meteorites' high prices. The Times quotes an Italian scientist as saying, "We have at our disposal a very limited number of specimens to study and exhibit." Another scientist, from Case Western Reserve University, agrees, saying the black market has had the effect of "dramatically [reducing] who can get samples to do the research.”
The Martian rock that crashed into the Moroccan desert last year was one of the meteorites that managed to find its way into the hands of a scientist, namely, Chris Herd, the guest on the Science Friday episode I was listening to. And while host Ira Flatow invoked the marketplace scene in "Casablanca" in which vendors were ostentatiously hawking their wares, I couldn't help but think that finding a space rock in the immense expanse of the Saharan desert has got to be the closest thing Morocco has to a lottery. Herd bought his meteorite for a little under $18,000.
Listen to the full segment here.By Nathan Patin, Aslan Media Columnist