domingo, 10 de junho de 2012

The black market for meteorites

Meteors are ethereal and heavenly as they zip across the night sky—but what happens when they fall to Earth is something else entirely. Writing at the website of the excellent BBC Radio program “The Naked Scientists,” Audrey Tempelsman looks at the global trade in meteorites, and finds a shadowy, globe-spanning gray market.

The price for a meteorite can reach $1,000 per gram, and the laws governing their ownership are as varied as the countries where they land. “If a meteorite crash-lands into your rental home in the U.S. or U.K.,” Tempelsman explains, “it’s considered the landlord’s property. If you stumble upon a space rock in Japan, however, finders-keepers applies.” In other countries, meteorites must be handed over to government-run museums.

Many meteorite resellers, Tempelsman writes, close their eyes to the legal aspects of the merchandise. As Ralph Harvey, a geologist at Case Western Reserve University, tells Tempelsman,“The skill level that some collectors have to get stones out of Africa rivals that of drug dealers.” Scientists and museums can find themselves negotiating with multiple dealers, each selling a fragment of the same rock; often, they must raise money to outbid deep-pocketed private collectors. It’s a very worldly process in pursuit of an otherworldly object.

Fonte: Boston Globe

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