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Chinese meteorite hunters: adventurers hoping to get rich from rocks

Rarely found is 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 series of fireballs in 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. That said, it has helped the Chinese authorities determine that the largest meteor field in the world, which is 425 kilometers long, is located in Altai, in the far west of China's Xinjiang.

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 people's meteorite enthusiasts. 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 ̵

1; 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 – in the Zag and Monahani meteors that crashed in Texas and Morocco in 1998, raising the possibility of complex organic compounds in space.
  Zhang Bo on a meteor shower in the far western region of Xinjiang, China in 2016.

Zhang Bo on a meteorite hunt in China's west-west Xinjiang region in 2016. Credit: ] Zhang Bo / provided

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 of 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 were raining 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.

"Please look rationally at the fall of the meteorite. Do not blindly want to reach the goal of getting rich at night by finding a meteorite. The good life needs to be created with its own efforts and de diction. Please treat yourself rationally, "according to a government announcement.

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

Xu Weibiao, meteor expert from The Nanjing Purple Mountain Observatory (PMO) says meteorites can be sold for more than $ 10,000 per gram. "

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

The Birth of Mania

According to NASA, about 44 tons of meteorite material falls on Earth every day. Most burn in the atmosphere, but some survive the fall and land in strange 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 have been no confirmed cases of killing of meteorites, but the Comet International Quarter tracks close gaps and lists many cases where meteorites hit homes. or cars.

  Zhang Bo hunting the m theories in Xinjiang, China, in 2016

Zhang Bo on meteorite hunting in Xinjiang, China, in 2016 Credit: Zhang Bo / Delivery

Gian's meteorite obsession began in 2009.

He was on a holiday cycling around the Chinese island resort of Hainan when he spotted a fireball grazing the night sky that was visible from the capital Sanya to the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

At the time, he worked in his family's jewelry business. But soon his fascination with meteorites takes 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, such as 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 features that separate them from ordinary rocks or rocks: synthesized bark and regmaglipti. 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 a synthesized crust.

According to Xu, dust grains are the most valuable elements of any meteorite. The different isotopes in the chemical elements of the powder 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, he stuffs his SUV with metal detectors, shovels , a tent and enough supplies to support it for two weeks in one of the outermost regions of the world.

  Zhang Bo searches for meteorites in Xinjiang, China, in 2016.

Zhang Bo searches for meteorites in Xinjiang, China, in 2016. Credit: Zhang Bo / Delivered

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.

Zhang wanted to visit the site of meteorites he had read about in magazines, including one discovered by shepherds in the Gobi desert more than a century ago.

Named "The Silver Camel", it is believed that the great silver rock crashed on Earth in 1898. It weighs 28 tons and is the fourth largest iron meteorite in the world. 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 kept it for 25 years, until local authorities arrived with heavy equipment in 2011 to take it away.

In 2017, it was reported that a shepherd was trying to bring local authority to court to claim property. The meteorite, dubbed "Akebulake," was covered in "several graffiti and graft scratches," and officials are moving it to the local mayoralty 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.

  Zhang Bo searches for parts of "The Tear of Allah," a huge iron meteorite weighing nearly 18 tons, which was discovered in Altai in 1986.

Zhang Bo searches for parts of "The Tear of Allah," a huge iron meteorite weighing almost 18 tons, discovered in Altai in 1986. Credit: Zhang Bo / Delivery

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

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

Zhang says his findings indicate that mistakes were made in official records.

Using his information, scientists were able to establish that the meteor field in the Altai flows along an arc 425 kilometers from China to Mongolia, making it the largest meteorite field in the world.

Previously, the largest meteorite field in the world was discovered in Gibeon, Namibia, extending 275 kilometers south of where Hobo, the world's largest iron meteorite, was discovered in 1920 by agricultural the owner. 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

Zhang won't disclose any personal information to his clients, but says they pay anywhere between $ 100,000 to $ 1 million for rare rocks. Meteorites also show high auction prices.

  A meteorite specimen exhibited at a showroom in Urumqi, Xinjiang, China, on September 19, 2014.

A meteorite specimen exhibited at a showroom in Urumqi, Xinjiang, China, on September 19, 2014. [19659013] Credit: GOH CHAI HIN / AFP / AFP / Getty Images

The latest sale of a meteor by British auction house Christie & # 39; s, entitled "Deep Impact," collected over $ 800,000 in February 2019

The big ticket item is Campo del Cielo ("Valley of the Sky"), a meteorite thought to have been formed by the cosmic collision of two asteroids sending fr gmeni invading the Earth about 4,000 years ago, sold for $ 275,000, up from an estimated $ 60,000.
The most expensive meteorite ever auctioned is a moon meteorite sold in 2018 by the Boston RR Auction, for $ 612,500, is known as the "Moon Puzzle" because it originated on the moon and is made up of six fragments that fit together. It was found in 2017 in the northwestern African country of Mauritania, but is thought to have landed thousands of years ago after being blown off the moon's surface by another meteor shower.

Zhang says do not hunt meteorites for money, but to contribute to science and education. 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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