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QM’s meteoric support

Queensland Museum’s acting chief executive Dr Robert Adland with Queensland’s Assistant Minister of State Jennifer Howard with the rare iron-nickel Georgetown meteorite. Photo: Tony Moore.

Tony Moore, Meteorite found in Qld Gulf tells secrets from 4 billion years ago, The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 September 2017

On the meteorite “black market” this piece of iron and nickel-rich rock from space is worth “many hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

But now this very rare nickel-iron fragment from an asteroid found on Earth is owned by Queensland Museum for a cost of $100,000. It is one of only five in the world.

It will soon teach us more about how our solar system formed 4.6 billion years ago and how Earth was formed by mergers of hot molten rock around 4 billion years ago.

Queensland’s 15-kilogram meteorite – about the size of small hot chook – was found near Georgetown in Queensland’s Gulf Country by two gold prospectors; a husband and a wife who want their identity kept secret.

Queensland Museum’s acting chief executive Dr Robert Adland said the gold prospectors were working just south of Georgetown in 2015 when they discovered the object buried about two-metres underground.

“He and wife came across what they thought was at the time this massive gold nugget,” Dr Adland said.

“You can imagine their excitement over that. And when they had a better look at it, it didn’t look at all like a gold nugget.”

In 2013 a 5.5-kilogram, gold nugget found near Ballarat was valued at $300,000.

The Georgetown meteorite is very heavy for its size; weighing 15.3 kilograms for something about half the size of a football and worth a lot of money, Dr Adland said.

The gold fossickers have now sold the meterorite to Queensland Museum for $100,000, which was raised by two $50,000 cultural heritage grants from the federal and Queensland governments.

“They eventually got in touch with Queensland Museum, because they decided it should stay in Queensland,” Dr Adland said.

“After some negotiations and looking at the meteorite they decided that they would sell it to the Queensland Museum at less than its current market value,” he said.

“There is a huge black market and this could be worth – depending on the type of course – the asteroids could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“So even though it was not gold, it was worth a lot of money.”

Its real value lies in what it can tell scientists about how our solar system was formed from a whirling explosion of gas and dust around 4.6 billion years ago.

The leftover particles from this process are still floating in space as asteroids – in large asteroid belts – until they fall to earth as meteorites.

Queensland Museum mineralogist Dr Andy Christy said the rare quality of the meteorite was discovered when the fossicker sawed through one end and found the metal ores inside the meteorite.

“Most iron meteorites are almost entirely nickel-iron alloys with small amounts of other minerals,” Dr Christy said.

“But this spectacular specimen features branching crystals of metals – similar in shape to staghorn coral – encased in bronze-coloured iron sulphide,” he said.

Dr Christy will begin several months of investigations before revealing his findings early in 2018.

“Studying this meteorite will ultimately reveal exciting details about how old it was and where it came from,” he said.

“But it will improve our understanding of how planets like Earth would have formed from collisions and mergers between smaller bodies in the earliest days of the solar system.”

Queensland’s Assistant Minister of State Jennifer Howard, federal senator Mitch Fifield and federal member for Brisbane Trevor Evans inspected the meteorite on Thursday at the museum.

See also: Rare meteorite to stay in Australia