Let’s play a game.
How much do you think these tiny, pitted fragments of rock are worth?
Right there. Those three little specks underneath the glass.
Here’s a closer look:
If you guessed somewhere around $1,000… $10,000… even $100K… I suggest you take a seat.
You’re not even close.
These rocks — “rocks” is generous; “gravel” is more like it — were auctioned at Sotheby’s on Nov. 29, 2018, for a whopping $855,000. Which is almost double what they went for in 1993, when the winning bidder shelled out $442,500.
Why the out-of-this-world price tag?
Because these three tiny fragments are moon rocks. And they’re the only sample on Earth that’s part of a private collection.
Here’s the quick version of the story:
On Sept. 20, 1970, the Soviet Union celebrated landing the Luna 16 probe on the moon. The robot drilled into lunar ground, collecting about 100 grams of samples from the Sea of Fertility before blasting off back home.
These particular fragments, which contain over 70 different elements, are estimated to be 3.4 billion years old. After analysis, they were gifted to Nina Ivanovna Koroleva, widow of Sergei Korolev, chief designer and director of the Soviet space program.
All right, so moon rocks are off the table as an investable asset — at least for the foreseeable future. So why am I wasting your time showing you pictures of pebbles?
Because space is a big place — and you’d be surprised at how much space junk makes its way to our little corner of the galaxy…
Approximately 200–400 tracked objects enter our atmosphere every year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Roughly one per day on average.
Of course, just because an object enters our atmosphere doesn’t mean it’s home free.
Most falling debris burns up and disintegrates. A large percentage of what doesn’t break apart falls in the ocean or sparsely populated areas where people — even dedicated space rock hunters — are unlikely to ever find it.
That said, space is undergoing something of a Renaissance right now — this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing — fueling a growing niche of far-out collectors.
Now for a little science…
Meteorites fall into one of three broad categories:
- Iron — Type most frequently collected. Composition consists mostly of iron with small amounts of nickel and cobalt. Cross sections show the pattern below, formed from slow cooling under high pressure.
- Stony — Type that falls most frequently but is harder to differentiate. They come in a variety of colors and can be fine- or coarse-grained. Also called stone meteorites.
- Stony-Iron — The rarest type, accounts for less than 2% of found meteorites. Contains both stone and iron.
The scientific significance of meteorites is huge. It’s tantamount to an intergalactic message in a bottle — a clue as to how the universe was formed. Recognizing this, many meteorite hunters will donate a fragment of their discoveries in exchange for verification and authentication.
These records have been formally compiled in the Meteoritical Bulletin, the definitive index of verified meteorites. This resource allows investors to verify the provenance (history of ownership) of any potential purchases.
Which is a big deal because big money is getting involved…
In 2014, Christie’s auction house debuted a new category dedicated to meteorites. They also host an annual online auction. This year’s auction, held in February, brought in over $800K.
And when Sotheby’s held its first Space Exploration-theme auction in July 2017 — final sales totaled $3,806,063.
Granted, the lots at Sotheby’s weren’t all space rocks of varying size and shape… There were also items from various missions, planetary and deep-space photography and works of art.
But it’s easy to see how bidders could rack up such a bill when you consider that — gram for gram — meteorites are more valuable than gold or platinum. Some are worth as much as $1,000 per gram. Compare that with gold, currently at $41.39, or platinum, right now at $25.91.
However, profit potential is not the only motivation at play here.
This kind of asset appeals to the human sense of adventure. If you were alive in 1969, you remember what an incredible moment it was to watch — as a nation — as the first human beings set foot on the moon.
Holding something ancient (don’t even get me started on space-time) and cosmic is the closest most of us will ever get to walking among the stars ourselves.
There’s something almost magical about that.
You’ll never get that feeling from stocks or bonds.
That’s the best part of the unconventional investing journey. Finding the stuff that feeds you and making money at the same time.
Lucille St. John
Managing editor, Unconventional Wealth
Lucille St. John
Lucille St. John is the managing editor of Unconventional Wealth. A gentlewoman and a scholar, Lucille never received much in the way of a financial education. But what she lacks in fiscal knowledge she makes up for in taste.
She’s going to take you with her on her unconventional wealth journey — starting from...