Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What enormous wealth means...

Wired magazine has a cute story about a "meteor farmer".

Three days later, Arnold and his partner and investor – an oil and gas attorney from San Antonio named Philip Mani – were attacking the site with a backhoe. After digging down about 5 feet, Arnold scrabbled into the hole with a shovel and started clearing. Finally, the blade clanged against something metallic. The more dirt he moved, the more meteorite he exposed. They lowered the backhoe scoop and strapped the rock to it. Grinding and whining, the machine pulled free the biggest meteorite Arnold had ever seen.

While we could all appreciate his tenacity and ingenuity, the real nugget of this account is how the economics of meteors play out.

METEORITE HUNTING wouldn't be so lucrative if it weren't for a music executive named Darryl Pitt. He collected meteorites for years, buying them at rock-bottom rates when the only other buyers were scientists. But in 1995, sitting on a collection numbering in the hundreds, he guessed that people would pay big money for space flotsam. "I needed a mechanism to elevate the profile of my extraterrestrial friends," Pitt says. But he knew he wouldn't get any traction unless he could make people see his "friends'" inherent beauty. A former professional photographer, Pitt started shooting pictures of each of his rocks, lighting them as if they were magazine cover subjects and writing rapturous descriptions in the vein of wine connoisseurship. Then he put them on the block at Phillips International Auctioneers and Valuers, alongside dinosaur eggs and a 3,749-carat opal. The plan worked; the first auction netted close to $200,000.

Pitt is still at it. His online catalog describes meteorites as "objets d'art" with sensuous, zoomorphic shapes – an expert sales job. "Sleek tabletop specimen … evocative of the sculpture of Barbara Hepworth," goes one entry. "With a bright platinum patina and compelling from all perspectives."

Only in a culture where some have enormous amounts of money with little or no demands on it can essentially worthless objects, or even subjectively valued things such as art, command significant exchange rates.

And what's with the doctored picture? Meteorites don't glow.

[via Neatorama]

Update: How many meteorites hit the Earth every day? About 20-50.

Keep looking up!

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