Hot Tub Astronomy: Meteorites: My Sky Diamonds Jun10


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Hot Tub Astronomy: Meteorites: My Sky Diamonds

After one carries on a hobby for many years, it is often difficult to remember the when, how and why it had all started. But I am often asked that and how many meteorites do you have? Obviously my collection is minor compared to those meteor hunters like O. Richard Norton, who scour the Earth the world over. But it is our collection and people we show are usually impressed. They want to handle them one after the other, touch the magnet to them and look at the pictures I show them in my books.

Because of the intense interest of children, I have begun to keep a small pile of the tiny chips my favorite rock store, Kristalle’s of Laguna Beach, often carries. I was told that they get them from an Australian fellow, who finds them when cleaning a storm drain. Most of the little rocks that seemed to clog it up were bitty meteorites washed in from the small muddy river on his ranch. When he had enough to bother with, he put them on the Web at the per ounce price, where Kristalle’s became his steady customer… and we theirs!

With some small plastic boxes, I could say to a child who was reluctant to leave my assortment when it was time to leave, “Would you like to have a small one to keep?” I then showed them the small dish that contained the chips. And let them choose just one to put in the box and take home.

This always reminded me of how I actually got started collecting with a chip also that small..

The find was tied to our 1986 road trip to hunt for Halley’s Comet.

One of our stops was at an Arizona museum where they sold very small chips of iron-nickel meteorites, each one in a little plastic box. I bought one and felt as thrilled with my purchase as these little kids seemed to be when given one of mine. I often liked to take mine out to handle it and wonder about space and distant things. I guess I hoped this child would do the same.
My most interesting book, Rocks from Space, by O. Richard Norton, came several years later with my next meteorite.
One of our anniversaries was coming up and Bob was hinting around trying to decide on a gift for me. “What would you like?” he finally just came out and asked. “Would you like another diamond? Maybe a new ring or a necklace?” A reasonable guess as diamonds are my birth stone and everyone knows they are a “girls best friend.”

But I knew instantly what I wanted, I had seen it in Kristalle’s Rock shop.

“I would much rather have that piece of metorite we saw the other day!” This was not a chip, but nice 461 gram slice of iron-octahedrite from Toluca Mexico, cut open on one long side showing a beautiful, silver Widmanstatten pattern the other side coated with a rust colored ablasion crust it had developed burning it’s way to Earth. The an unusual design of crossing lines, almost forming a plaid effect in the cut and treated metal and is the result of the rocks, thrown into space from an exploding star then cooling slowly over millions and millions of years. So obviously man could not make an earth rock of iron and nickel metals and then cool it properly to fake the meteorite effect.

The one I loved felt heavy as it fit the length of my hand, and I wanted to own this “Diamond from the Sky” much more than another diamond anything.

After I opened it on our anniversary, those people present were amazed, or appalled, that Bob had given me a rustly rock as a gift! But I was thrilled because even though I had asked for it, I really wasn’t sure that he would spend that much money for a rock.

It was given a place of honor on the piano, sitting on a wooden base where others could see it and even handle it, thinking what ever they chose to think. I loved it! The “Rocks from Space book came with it, and I read every word! I learned that the Widmanstatten Pattern that defined a meteorite from a simple iron earth rock was discovered similtainiously by Count Alois von Widmanstatten in Vienna and William Thompson in Naples. However, Count Widmanstatten had published first, so he got the name. As I often stumbled over that unfamiliar German pronounced name, I wished good old Will Thompson had been a little quicker to publish.

The “Rocks from Space” book was so popular that we needed to buy a new copy quite often. The guests who picked up my heavy meteorite and couldn’t put it down, were directed to the Rocks in Space book which I called “the most interesting book I have ever read.” It not only contains the human history of meteorites, it’s full of very interesting individual stories about exceedingly large ones found and exploited, and lots of photos. If anyone wanted to borrow it I let them. As often as not, I was soon called to be told that they had finished it, but wanted a son or daughter,.. or someone else important to read it. Where could they buy it?
I sometimes replied. “Keep that one. I’ll pick up another from Kristalle’s. They’re just a couple of blocks up the street from us. We had been in the habit of dropping in when we walked with a grandchild to show the rocks and interesting things to them and look over the new stuff. After I had read that book, I now had an opinion about what kind of meteoite I wanted to own next. I had learned about Stony-Pallisites and Carbonaceous Condrites and that almost every type of gem stone had been found in these types of rocks. Now I wanted one of those.

However my next rock came from Quartzite Arizona, and was another nickel-iron like my first.

We were returning from a vacation, on which I carried the very strong, little magnet that I had purchased to test rocks, hoping to find my own meteoite lying around somewhere. However,I was never quite in the right somewhere, but it was in my purse just in case. So this time when the road home took us past the tiny, almost non-existant, town of Quartzite, we were surprised to see hundreds, no thousands, of cars parked all around a tent covered field that turned out to be a “Rock Show”. We stopped and began the long dusty trek walking between the rows of tents where rock folks had put up their booths to sell whatever they had been gathering over the year. Many had tables full of grimy, dirty, rocks for sale to those who knew what they were seeing. I held my little magnet in my hand and put it close to the black familiar looking ones, but found nothing of interest.

We asked around if anyone knew of a meteoite collector. We were directed this way and that, but didn’t find a soul who had a meteoite. Some of the tables had real glass booths where the finished products of their rocks were displayed as Jewelry or brilliantly shined pieces of carved Art. Eventually we were directed to a numbered booth that someone was sure had meteoites. When we found it, we were disappointed to learn the he did have several, but one man had bought them all: a Jewelry Maker.
The dust and dry heat were getting to us, so we decided to give it one more aisle to try to find the guy who bought them all.
You would have to see what we were up against. We had only gone up and down about half of the aisles. At the edge of the field we could see an even larger field where I can’t begin to guess how many RV’s and tents were congregated into the huge temporary “City of Quartzite” for the duration of the show.

The Jewelry People seemed to have a long aisle of their own, and after discovering it, we asked until we found him.
A goodlooking young man was leaning over his work table and it was easy to see he was cutting and polishing stones and would rather not stop. Racks on his display case dripped with chains of lovely shined rocks and matching bracelets and earrings. I ran my fingers through them. He did very nice work. The sign on the tent behind him read , “Stoneage Jewelry by James Haas of Almont Colorado.”

He stood almost reluctantly to take care of a possible customer; Us.

Bob asked him right off about meteorites. He showed us the little slices polished to show the etched Widmanstatten Pattern, that hung on the chains, tie clips, key chains , cuff links, and all of that girly stuff I mentioned. “No.” Bob explained, “We want to buy a rock. A whole rock.”

He shook his head, no. “I cut them into pieces and make them into things to sell in my Colorado shop.”

“May we at least see one?” Bob inquired. Young Mr.Haas reached under the counter and pulled out a rock, from which he had just cut off the end.

. He held out the small triangular piece to Bob. I thought maybe he was considering selling him that end. Bob held out his hand to receive the bigger chunk also. He fitted the little one to the cut on the big one.

“See?” we were told proudly, “I just etched the little cut end to assure myself that it was a meteorite.” We both examined it. The tiny triangle end gleamed with the Widmanstatten Pattern. Our books tell how to achieve this, but it requires chemicals we are not familar with and seems a little complicated, still it is the only sure way to tell a meteoite from a meteorwrong.

“What would you charge for this?” Bob asked, bouncing the chunk in his hand. I took it. It was heavy…clearly bigger than mine at home. The boy hesitated, “I can make more cutting it.” He said slowly, as he put the rock on a scale behind him before adding, “I’d have to ask $500. dollars for the big one.” Inside I gasped. Bob didn’t blink. He made an offer.pointing out that a profit could be made with less overhead. “Cash, if I can have the little end with the pattern on it also.”

The deal was made, and we left Quartzite with our prize, a 2nd meteorite!. It was better than winning in Vegas.

We now have a total of 17 meteorites. There are stories about all of them, like the one our daughter, Nancy, found in a shop in Paris France, the little ivory hand holding a silver Widmanstatten etched ball another daughter, Bonnie, found on her vacation and the wrist watch with a meteorite face our son, J.R.’s family gave to Bob. Beverly