Annual gem show to feature large collection of meteorites

By Carol McGraw Published: June 5, 2013 | 8:35 pm 0

They came from outer space.

They smashed cars, crashed through roofs, hit people, nearly missed a Canon City cat, and have felled an entire forest.

They have been spotted in the Colorado Springs home of Andrew Abraham, but will soon make their way across town.

But don't panic.

They are rocks, although not just any rocks.

Abraham is a collector of meteorites big and small, ugly and beautiful, rare and not so rare.

His collection and those of other members of the Colorado Meteorite Society (COMET) will be on display Friday through Sunday at the Western Museum of Mining and Industry. There also will be exhibits of gems and minerals from the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society, which is celebrating its 50th show.

The display is thought to be the largest of meteorites ever in one place in Colorado.

Recently, Abraham waxed poetic about why he collects meteorites.

"Every single one has a story," he said, holding up a sparkled pancake-sized slice. "I like the history of where they came from, where they were found on earth, and I'm fascinated by their varied compositions."

And he joked, "They are cheaper than buying a space ship."

The hobby is right down his vapor trail. Abraham, who loves science fiction, is a software engineer for Exostrategies, a Woodland Park company that develops space technology.

There are so many collectors that there is even a magazine, aptly named Meteorite Magazine. The local COMET club has about 20 members and, founded in 1998, is thought to be the first and longest-meeting organization of its kind. "We don't meet real often because we have a lot of astronomers and they work around moon cycles," he joked.

A meteorite doesn't start out as a meteorite. Scientists change the name as it travels through space. The debris in space is called an asteroid or meteoroid. Once it enters the earth's atmosphere it is a meteor, or shooting star as it is popularly called. Once it hits the ground it is a meteorite.

Some are quite famous. One may have caused the extinction of dinosaurs.

In February, the Chelyabinsk Meteorite, about 60 feet in diameter, exploded over Russia injuring hundreds of people, mostly because of the shock wave that caused broken glass. Abraham has several small piece of that rock that he obtained from a dealer. They can be had for $25 or more, depending on size.

Meteorites are usually priced by the gram, and the most expensive, rare ones have been priced at nearly a half million dollars at auction.

Collectors are holding their breaths to see if a pretty green one from Morocco can be verified as coming from Mercury because of its composition. If so, it would be the first one known from that planet, and therefore priceless.

Colorado has its own famous meteorites and several of them will displayed this weekend, said Bob Landgraf of the mineralogical society and who has written papers on the subject.

There will be a chunk of a 680-pound meteorite that two cowboys found near Guffey in 1907 and mistakenly thought was silver. Another exhibit, on loan from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science will include not only a meteorite but part of the roof it smashed through. In collector's lingo, it's called a "hammerstone" because it "hammered" something as it hit earth. In this case it crashed through a Canon City garage in 1973 and almost beaned a pet cat named Misty.

There also will be pieces of a meteorite that interrupted a funeral in 1924 near Johnstown in Weld County. Landgraf explained, "Two hundred people at a church saw it. The undertaker had a shovel and dug it out the ground."

Abraham has nothing really fancy. "I'm not a professional collector. Mine aren't the exotics."

He does have two moon rocks. Such meteorites were ejected from the moon by impact with other cosmic debris. He also has some large meteorites recovered in Morocco that are fashioned into bookends.

Abraham began collecting in his late 20s and his first meteorite is very ordinary. His parents had given him $100 for his birthday in 1997 with the admonition to buy something he wanted, not needed. It is identified as Roosevelt County 102. It was found in east central New Mexico in a dry lake bed.

Meteorites are usually named by where they are found and some also include an identifying number. After that purchase, he got a lesson on the subject from a dealer and bought five more the following week. He's not sure how many he has now, but does keep a database. One interesting purchase was a collection of 400 meteorites of less than 1/2 inch.

He notes that most people's idea of a meteorite is an pockmarked black or rust color rock. But many are light-colored. And many are quite beautiful, such as large slices of iron laced with crystallized nickle iron alloys.

Magnets are attracted to the iron in meteorites. But having a rock that attracts a magnet doesn't necessarily mean it's a meteorite. Some people who think they have a meteorite, actually have only a piece of rock with iron in it, Abraham notes. A good distinguishing factor is to test for nickel content.

The real ones are verified by university geochemists and meteoricists. They look for a ratio of minerals that might indicate the rocks are not from earth. They can also measure cosmic ray exposure to show how long the object was in space before hitting earth.

They are not that easy to find.

Abraham has hunted in so-called "strewn fields" or areas where meteorites breaks up.

"I spent one whole day searching and didn't find anything," he said, noting he has never found one.

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Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371 Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook Carol McGraw

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