On February 15th, 2013 a 10,000 ton meteor impacted the Ural Mountains in Russia, the largest meteor to hit earth in the past century. The shock wave this strike triggered shattered glass, injured almost 1,200 people and caused upwards of $35 million in damages. Still, as relief pours in to support the communities affected by this collision, some enterprising individuals are making considerable profits racing to collect and sell the meteorite fragments that are scattered across the country.
Just how valuable are these chunks of space rock? Up to $2,200 per gram, more than 40 times the current price of solid gold. Enough to make a killing, and if you’re willing to travel, enough to make a living. That’s how Tucson, Arizona native Micheal Farmer provides for himself as one of the 20 or so full time meteorite hunters in the world. Farmer’s interest was piqued with the purchase of a small meteorite fragment at a rock show 20 years ago. From there an obsession was born, and now an interest that turned into a hobby has turned into an all-consuming passion; he boasts over four million miles on American Airlines alone from his worldwide search.
Meteorite hunting isn’t easy money. Farmer says he has been robbed, beaten, and nearly killed while on the job. He even spent three months in a prison in Oman for “illegal mining activity,” a charge that was actually fabricated by the local government solely to stop him from finding and profiting off of meteorite fragments in their land. But when the hunting is good, the rewards are astounding. Farmer once found a moon rock (yes, that is literally a piece of the moon that fell off and hit earth) and sold it within a week for $100,000 dollars. His biggest find, though, was a 117 pound monster he located with three colleagues in Canada. The Canadian government bought it from the discoverers for nearly a million dollars.
Russia is now filled with amateur hunters looking to cash in on this momentousness collision. Meteorites are springing up everywhere, both from fake sources looking to make a quick buck and legitimate finds. While true samples have to be verified by expert scientists, many so-called fragments are being bought and sold every day by novices on the internet. Michael Farmer will stay away from this one, however. The professional rock hunter cites complications with international travel to Russia and the distracting nature of the media frenzy surrounding the area. When you have millions in space rock money in the bank, why fall for the hype?