Robert Elliott has always been fascinated by science since the age of eight when he received an electronics kit, and rapidly turned his bedroom into a laboratory.
He studied electronic engineering at Kingston University and founded a career in that line, even working on the Trident project. Then, 14 years ago, the collecting bug struck when he was in his mid-thirties. An advert in an astronomy magazine changed his life.
"Own a piece of another world," it said. He duly sent a cheque and received a piece of a meteorite in return. From that point on he began amassing the greatest meteorite collection in the UK and turned collecting into a career.
Elliott's collecting has certainly not been limited to browsing magazines, however. In fact his favoured technique is to use a makeshift metal detector: a magnet strapped to an old golf club.
That technique almost got him into a great deal of trouble in Arizona where a sheriff became suspicious that Elliott was illegally searching for ancient Indian pottery and the golf club was not a tool but a weapon for use if anyone asked awkward questions.
In general collecting hasn't been without its dangers. Elliott picked up a spider bite on the Arizona trip, and when tracking space rocks in the backstreets of Chicago he sometimes found himself dealing with people who were perhaps more used to selling rocks that make you spaced.
Elliott chased down meteorites anywhere they were and his wife Irene became resigned to his shooting off to another country at the drop of a hat (or more often a meteorite shower).
However, some of the collecting was possible to do together with his family. His son James still has the meteorite he found a decade ago, and Elliott's greatest discovery, the Hambleton meteorite, was found when he was on a walk with Irene in North Yorkshire in 2005.
The meteorite is a pallasite, the type of meteorite typically regarded as the most beautiful in existence with gem-like olivine typically found in its metallic matrix. However, the Hambleton meteorite was covered with a thick rusty crust when found, and it was far from clear if it was a meteorite at all.
Elliott also found the stony Glenrothes meteorite in 1998. Both finds are big news, as Britain is regarded as an extremely unpromising place to search for meteorites as the climate is profoundly unhelpful to their preservation.
His career in meteorites allowed him to trade with Britain's Natural History museum and also to sell to celebrities, notably Queen's Brian May (who is also a noted astrophysicist) and even Michael Jackson.
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In 2009, Elliott offered a large part of his collection for auction at Lyon and Turnbull including two lunar meteorites, a Martian meteorite and a large piece of the famous Barwell meteorite.
The Barwell meteorite is also fondly known as the Christmas meteorite as it fell on Barwell on Christmas Eve 1965, striking such objects as a car, window and plant pot. The collection of rocks was compared in size to 'a Christmas turkey'. The 910g piece sold for £8,000.
Now a grandfather, Elliott hunts for meteorites full time. As he once told UK newspaper The Times,
"Catch a falling star — that's what I do. There's a bit of romance there. These things are falling stars. They are so old — they saw the planets forming, they have seen comets and they have suffered extremes of temperature."
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