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Chinese meteorite hunters: adventurers hope to get rich from rocks

  Chinese meteorite hunters: adventurers hope to get rich from rocks

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In the early morning hours of Saturday and Sunday, Leonid's meteor shower will send shooting stars across the sky. But on Saturday, around 3 a.m. ET, there will be less moonlight hindering the view of meteors in the United States.

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SHANGHAI (CNN) – Rarely encountered Zhang Bo without metal detector, map and road vehicle.

Based in Shanghai, the self-funded meteorite hunter spends his days exploring meteor sightings and traveling the world to search for elusive and valuable fragments of rock.

37-year-old Zhang is remarkably successful for a person who has no formal training. He began exploring meteorites after seeing a sky across the sky in southern China in 2009.

In 2012, he began mounting expeditions in some of the most inhospitable areas in the world, Russia, France, the Sahara Desert, and in the far west of China, Xinjiang, armed with a metal detector, to scan the land for rocks.

Since then, Gian has outlined the location of meteorite landing points. This, according to him, helped the Chinese authorities determine that the largest meteor field in the world in the world, which is 425 kilometers long, is located in Altai, in the far west of China in the Xinjiang region.

Zhang says he went to Altai about 20 times before finding anything significant. "Nine out of ten (times) you won't be able to find anything," he says. China's meteorite hunters

The vast plains and mountainous regions of China are popular hunting spots for the nation's meteorite lovers. Some of the largest iron meteorites in the world have been found there, including in the Altai, where Gian competes with other hunters to find precious rocks.

Part of the appeal is the sense of adventure. Access to remote areas requires serious equipment and planning – and with it comes the thrill of eventually finding something that pushes us forward to understanding the science of the solar system.

For example, scientists discovered organic matter related to water – the origin of life – at the Zag and Monahani meteors that crashed in Texas and Morocco in 1998, raising the possibility of complex organic compounds in space.

However, for many meteor hunters, the motivation is much more basic: money.

After a fireball was observed rising in 2018 across the sky near the border with Myanmar and Laos in 2018, meteorite hunters rushed to the region, armed with their metal detectors and hoping to strike it rich .

Confirmation that about 200 meteorites had rains in a small village in Menghai, Sichuanbang, China, which borders the two Asian countries, prompted such haste that local authorities issued a notice calling for calm.

"Look for the Ase playoffs rationally in the fall of a meteorite. Don't want to blindly reach the goal of getting rich overnight by finding a meteorite. A good life must be created with your own effort and dedication. Please treat yourself rationally," it says in a government announcement.

Days after observing the fireball, suspected meteorites were advertised online for about RMB 50,000 ($ 7,800) grams.

Xu Weibiao, a meteorite expert at the Purple Mountain Observatory (PMO) in Nanjing, says meteorites can be sold for even more than $ 10,000 a gram.

"The rarity of a meteorite determines its market value," says Sue. "With the exception of people who really know the meteorite and its importance, most buyers are ordinary people and their meteorites are false."

Birth of mania

According to NASA, 44 tons of meteorite material fall on Earth every day. Most burn in the atmosphere, but some survive the fall and land in quaint places. In late July, for example, a suspected meteorite about the same size as a football landed in a rice field in eastern India.

There are no confirmed cases of meteors killing people, but the International Comet Quarter tracks near gaps and lists many cases where meteorites have hit homes or cars.

Zhang's meteorite obsession began in 2009.

He was on a bicycle vacation around Hainan's Chinese Island Resort when he spotted a fireball grazing the night sky that was visible from the capital Sanya to the Paracel Islands in South China. the sea.

At the time, he worked in his family's jewelry business. But soon his charm for meteorites took over.

Gian begins to study. First on the Internet and in libraries, then by knocking on the door of the Purple Mountain Observatory (PMO) in Nanjing, 300 kilometers east of Shanghai.

Founded as a former Institute of Astronomy in 1928, today, the PMO is the center for space exploration in China, where experts such as Sue examine meteorites that hunters, like Zhang, bring to check. At first, Gian brought them the meteorites he had bought or found for testing.

At RMO, he meets Xu and the two become friends, exchanging messages and information about meteorites.

When evaluating meteorites, experts look for two functions that separate them from ordinary stones or rocks: synthetic bark and regglipts. They are holes or thin streamlines along the surface of a meteorite created by friction as the meteor passes through the atmosphere.

The alloy crust, on the other hand, is a dark, glass sheath wrapped around a meteorite. When a meteorite travels through the atmosphere, it causes the air around it to compress. Compressed air has a high temperature that melts the outer layers of the meteorite. When delayed to a point where no melting occurs, this layer is cooled to form the synthesized crust.

According to Xu, dust grains are the most valuable elements of any meteorite. The different isotopes in the chemical elements of the dust grains contain information on how stars evolved.

Zhang's Mania

Zhang says he made his most significant discovery in the summer of 2016. After hearing about the large meteorites discovered in Altai, its SUV with metal detectors, shovels, tent and enough stock to support it for two weeks in one of the outermost regions of the world.

Located in China's Xinjiang Province, it borders Mongolia and Kazakhstan in Central Asia. It is a 7.5 hour drive from the nearest town.

Gian wants to visit the site of meteorites he has read about in magazines, including one discovered by cattle in the Gobi Desert more than a century ago.

Called the "silver camel" The large silver rock is believed to have crashed on Earth in 1898. It weighs 28 tons and is the world's fourth largest iron meteorite. Today, it is housed in the Xinjiang Geological and Mineral Museum.

Zhang also searched for meteorites related to the "Tear of Allah," a huge iron meteorite weighing nearly 18 tons. It was discovered in Altai in 1986 by shepherds who apparently guarded it for 25 years, until local authorities arrived with heavy equipment in 2011 to take it away.

In 2017, the dentist reported that he was trying to take local authority to court to claim ownership. The meteorite, called "Akebulake", was covered in "several graffiti and cuts" and officials are moving it to the local town hall to protect it from further damage, according to official records.

Iron meteorites are composed. almost entirely of nickel-iron alloy. They represent less than 5% of meteoric falls observed, but their weight – they are far heavier than normal rocks – and the shiny metallic outer surface means they are more easily identified as meteorites.

Most iron meteorites are thought to originate from the core of large asteroids that wind around the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, some 400 million kilometers from the Sun. These asteroids are thought to be the remnants of the creation of our solar system about 4.6 billion years ago, which is why they are so valuable and important to early-stage research.

During his journey to Altai, Zhang carefully recorded the coordinates of meteorites that were found to have the same chemical composition as "The Silver Camel" and "The Tear of Allah."

Zhang says his findings show that official records have made mistakes.

Using his information, scientists were able to establish that the meteor field in the Altai is moving 425 kilometers from China to Mongolia, making it the largest meteor field in the world.

Previously, the world's largest meteorite field was discovered in Gibeon, Namibia, extending 275 kilometers south of Hoba, the world's largest iron meteorite found in 1920 by a farmer. The Hobo weighs 60 tons and, because of its huge size, has never been moved from where it crashed to Earth about 80,000 years ago.

A big ticket item

Gian won't reveal any personal information to his customers, but says they pay anywhere between $ 100,000 to $ 1 million for rare rocks .

The last sale of a meteor from British auction house Christie & # 39; s entitled "Deep Impact" raised over $ 800,000 in February 2019.

The big ticket item was Campo del Cielo ("Valley of the Sky") , a meteorite thought to have been formed by the cosmic collision of two asteroids that sent fragments invading Earth about 4,000 years ago, sold for $ 275,000, estimated at $ 60,000.

the most expensive meteorite ever auctioned is a moon meteorite sold in 2018 by Boston-based RR Au ction, which is for $ 612,500.It is known as the "Moon Puzzle" because it originated on the moon and is composed of six fragments that fit together. It was found in 2017 in the northwestern country of Mauritania but is believed to be that he landed thousands of years ago after being blown up from the surface of the moon by another meteor shower. So far, his travels have taken him from the Barringer Crater in the Arizona Desert to the Hanbury Conservation Site in Australia.

He says that he will go where the meteors – and their meteorites – take him.

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