Who owns the Virginia meteorite?

Last month, two doctors were working in a lab in Lorton, Virginia, when a tennis ball-sized lump of rock came straight through the ceiling.

After getting over the shock, the men reported their discovery, and the Smithsonian museum offered them $5,000 for the meteorite, which they happily accepted. Following the discovery, a number of meteorite hunters have descended on the surrounding area.

However, the doctors do not own the building in which they were working in, and the owners are now launching a legal bid to regain the meteorite, claiming it legally belongs to them. Typically, meteorites are legally classed as becoming part of the land on which they fall, so the claim is quite a strong one.

The meteorite, which is being held at the Smithsonian until the legal questions have played out, has been estimated as being worth up to $50,000 on the open market.

This is not so much because of the intrinsic value of the meteorite; whilst all are rare and of some value this is a fairly typical chondrite and most likely to be from the asteroid belt. It does not have a high metal content and shows no signs of originating on another planet.

It is likely that a comparable meteorite which had just been discovered long after the fall would be much less valuable. Even meteorites have memorabilia value, and the alarming way it introduced itself gives it a much better story for a collector to enjoy.


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