On April 20th, 2016, 76 meteorites go up for auction at Christie’s London, including the only space rock to ever verifiably kill an Earth mammal. What are the details? Is it worth the estimated sale price? What can one get at the auction for a million dollars?
The killer space rock is the so-called Valera meteorite, named for the city in the Trujillo State of Venezuela where, on October 15th, 1972, it killed a cow in the only documented instance of an Earth mammal meeting its demise as a result of getting hit directly by a meteorite. Farm workers heard a sonic boom that night, then found the rock buried into the ground next to a cow dead from a “pulverized” crushed neck and collarbone. The farm’s owner, physician Argimiro Gonzalez, confirmed the death-by-meteorite, had the cow butchered for dinner and used the space rock for a number of years as a doorstop.
Years later, Dr. Ignacio Ferrin, an astronomer at the University of the Andes, heard about it, visited the Gonzalez estate and left with the meteorite and an affidavit verifying the details of its killer past. The rock was last up for auction in 2007 when it sold for $1,553 (£1090). Christie’s lists its current estimated value at between $5,632 and $8,448 (£4,000–£6,000).
That’s a bargain in comparison to the half-ton shield-shaped, iron-laden chunk of the meteorite that exploded over Chelyabinsk in 2013 and is expected to sell for over $1.139 million (£800,000).
Some experts are wondering if the Valera meteorite is worth its asking price based on an incident which occurred on February 6th, 2016, when a man on a college campus in Tamil Nadu, India, appeared to have been killed by a meteorite which left fragments in a four-foot-deep crater. Officials confirmed that the crater was from a meteorite, making V. Kamaraj the first human to verifiably die from meteor-icide. Unfortunately, the fragments were tiny and none are for sale at the Christie’s London auction.
Will the Valera meteorite sell for its asking price? Hard to tell – that’s a lot for a doorstop, even a famous one. Is it worth it, considering it may not be the only verifiable killer meteor? They’d better sell it soon – there’s probably more coming.
Did the cow taste funny?