BY MARK MATHOSIAN
Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? Well, not so long ago that was nearly impossible. The only samples of moon rocks were those brought back by astronauts, and US law forbids private citizens from owning them. Fortunately, over the past several years lunar meteorites were discovered on deserts around the world by experienced collectors and local nomads who earn a living selling them to collectors and dealers. While moon rocks are still rare – making up less than 1% of discovered meteorites – they are available for purchase in small to large specimens by novice collectors.
A moon meteorite is called a lunaite. They are rocks ejected from the moon by violent asteroid impacts, captured by earth’s gravitational field and drawn into orbit around the earth. They remain in orbit for up to thousands of years before finally surrendering to earth’s gravity and falling to the ground. Because we have over 800 pounds of lunar rocks and soil collected during the Appolo missions, a comparison can be made to the composition of meteorites found by nomads to verify their lunar authenticity. As of today, over 50 discovered meteorites have a unique chemical composition indicating they originated on the moon.
Many lunar meteorites have been found in the hot deserts of Northwest Africa in the regions of the Morocco-Algeria border, and they are systematically labeled with the designation NWA. A number follows the NWA label and the meteorite is named after the place where it was found. Lunar meteorites have also been discovered in Libya, the Arabian Peninsula, Antarctica, and Australia. Interestingly, no lunar meteorites have ever been found in North America, South America or Europe. Perhaps this is because meteorites are easier to spot on barren desert sands and on the vast Antarctica icecap. Samples of the meteorites are provided to qualified laboratories for analysis and validation. In my collection, I have a tiny rock fragment from NWA 3163 and small amounts of pure cutting dust from lunar meteorites NWA 482 and NWA 5000. A sterilized saw was used to cut the meteorites to guarantee they were not contaminated by terrestrial materials. All three lunar samples were purchased on-line from reputable meteorite dealers and came with guarantees of authenticity.
By now you are probably wondering how much lunar artifacts cost, where to buy them and what to expect. Simply put, you can spend as little or as much as you want. Just remember that because they are rare, fragments of the moon are often sold in sizes equal to a grain of sand. These small fragments are usually capsulized in clear plastic display boxes with a moon scene behind the piece of meteorite. There is nothing wrong with buying small lunar samples as long as you know what you are getting. Tiny moon rocks and bottles of lunar dust with certificates of authenticity can be purchased for as little as ten to fifty dollars on-line at eBay or from meteorite dealers. Prices go up from there with larger and more alluring meteorites cost more. Collectors have been known to spend thousands to millions of dollars for large moon specimens. Personally, I don’t believe you must spend big bucks to get the wow effect. The fact that I can hold a piece of the moon in my hands, no matter how small, puts a smile on my face.
Another shopping tip is that you should become familiar with weights and sizes. Meteorites are usually sold by gram weight, and they tend to look bigger on computer screens than they actually are. You don’t want to be disappointed when your meteorite arrives in the mail, and it isn’t what you thought it should be. Also, if you go the eBay route, be sure to read eBay’s informative help page Buying Meteorites on eBay: A Beginner’s Guide.
Finally, before buying your first lunar rock, learn a little more about meteorites in general. A book I recommend is Rocks From Space by O.Richard Norton. Considered one of the bibles of meteorite collecting, Norton explains everything you need to know about asteroids, comets, meteors and impact sites. You will learn about the different kinds of meteorites and receive helpful collecting tips. Another favorite of mine is The Art of Collecting Meteorites by Kevin Kichinka. Kichinka’s book also receives high praise in the meteorite collecting community for being a practical and useful guide for collectors. Kichinka words flow on the pages, and The Art of Collecting Meteorites is a fun read. I have reread my copy many times to absorb his many tips.