China / Now and Then

Meteorite madness in an alien landscape

By Cui Jia (China Daily) Updated: 2014-12-19 07:48

Meteorite madness in an alien landscape

A meteorite "hunter" uses GPS to fix the location of an object his team discovered in Lop Nur, Xinjiang. [Photo by Zhao Yuxian / for China Daily]

Scientific value

The Qitai meteorite was dug out by villagers who witnessed its descent. Because it's possible to pinpoint its point of origin in Earth and the date, it's the most valuable type of meteorite, Zhao said. "These types of meteorite are not only valuable because they sell for much higher prices - their value in terms of scientific research is also extremely high."

In November, an international team of researchers from China, Japan, Germany and Switzerland published research in a scientific journal claiming to have discovered evidence of biological activity inside a meteorite from Mars that landed in the desert in Morocco on July 18, 2011.

The meteorite, known as the "Tissint specimen", contained traces of carbon, and the scientists said the discovery could provide strong evidence that there was once life on the red planet.

In 2013, a meteor rained an estimated 10,000 tons of rock on the Chelyabinsk region of Russia. It was a once-in-a-century event, according to NASA officials, who described the meteor as a "tiny asteroid". The blast was the largest to hit Earth since the 1908 Tunguska incident in Siberia, when a meteorite strike flattened a forest.

The recent event left more than 1,500 injured, mostly with glass wounds from shattered windows, and attracted hunters from around the world, including three from Xinjiang. Sadly, they returned empty-handed, Zhao said.

He now owns a meteorite store in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, called "Sky-traveling Stars", which has also become a club for his fellow hunters.

In addition to selling meteorites he and his peers have found, Zhao also sells space rocks he has purchased from sources in Russia, Argentina and the United States.

"Initially, I was drawn to meteorites because I thought I could make money from them, but now I just love the process of finding them and being surrounded by them. To me, they are the most beautiful and mysterious stones, and they might hold the answers to some of the big questions about life and the universe."

Zhao and two other hunters have decided they will return to Lop Nur on Dec 22, despite a drop in the seasonal nighttime temperature to - 20 C. "We are risking our lives every time we go to hunt in these hostile deserts. Wish me luck - not only that I'll find a few meteorites, but also that I'll return safe and sound."

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