The Indonesian meteorite which didn't sell for $1.8m

Joshua Hutagalung with his precious find
The story made headlines around the world - a meteorite crashes through the roof of an Indonesian villager's house and is worth millions, changing his life forever.
The find was believed to be worth $ 1.8 million (£ 1.36 million), which made the man an overnight millionaire - and if not, they discussed whether to move to US Buyer had been sold.
But none of these things are true. The meteorite is not worth millions and no one has been ripped off.
This dream is not going to be quite what it first seemed.
A stone falls on a house ...
Let's get back to the real story - fairy tale or not, it's fascinating. Joshua Hutagalung, a coffin maker in a Sumatra village, was minding his own business in early August when he heard a noise from above and, seconds later, a loud crack from his house.
At first Joshua was too scared to check what it was: the unknown object had come through his roof with such speed and force that it cut right through the metal roof and buried itself six inches into the ground.
He ended up digging up a strange little boulder weighing about 2kg.
"When I lifted it, it was still warm," he told the BBC's Indonesian service. "That's when I thought the object I was lifting was a meteorite from the sky. It was impossible for anyone to throw such a large rock on the roof of the house."
It's not every day that a boulder from space crashes through your roof, so Joshua posted pictures of the exciting find on Facebook. And the news began to travel far beyond his village, through Sumatra and Indonesia, before reaching international ears.
Meteorites are essentially old rocks that whiz through space and have - purely by accident - crash landed on earth.
It is not surprising that there is scientific interest in them. Questions range from where they come from, what they are made of and what they tell us about the universe.
Then there is the interest of collectors. Meteorites are more than four billion years old - older than our own planet - and so their fascination is easy to see.
US meteorite contributes to the secret of origin
The man who owns 1,000 meteorites
"Diamonds in the sky" for stargazers
And it was these collectors who were interested in Joshua's stone and who absolutely wanted to buy it. But in August worldwide travel was all but stopped due to Covid and a quick flight to Indonesia was impossible.
At that point, some potential buyers in the US contacted meteorite enthusiast Jared Collins, an American living in Indonesia, and asked if he could help.
He made it to Sumatra, met Joshua and inspected the boulder for authentication and to make sure it was being properly stored. For example, contact with water would have quickly damaged the meteorite.
"It's incredibly exciting to have the opportunity to hold what is a real physical remnant from the early stages of our solar system's formation," the American told the BBC this week.
About 2 kg of space rock
"I immediately noticed the distinctive jet black interior and the thin light brown, pockmarked exterior that emerged when traveling through the atmosphere.
"It also had a very unique smell that is difficult to explain with words."
After the buyer in the US had agreed a price with Joshua, the meteorite was sold with Jared as an intermediary.
Both sides stress that the undisclosed amount was fair and that no one was cheated in the deal. However, it wasn't nearly the number that hit the headlines around the world - not even anywhere near it.
A potential gold mine
So where did the $ 1.8 million price tag come from? It's a mix of a hopeful salesman and some amateur mathematicians.
Apart from the one large rock weighing about 2 kg, some smaller pieces of the meteorite were found near Joshua's house. Some of them were also sold and two of them ended up on Ebay in the US.
Ebay screenshot with a piece of the meteorite
Offer prices are $ 285 for 0.3g and $ 29,120 for 33.68g. If you break that down, that works out to be roughly $ 860 per gram. Multiply by the weight of the big rock you get $ 1.8 million.
"I laughed when I read that number," Laurence Garvie, research professor at Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration, told the BBC. As an international authority in this field, he was able to inspect parts of the Sumatran meteorite and make the official classification for them.
"I've seen this story so many times," he adds. "Somebody finds a meteorite and they look on Ebay and think it's worth millions because they see small fragments that are sold for a large amount."
"An Alien Mud Ball"
But it just doesn't work that way.
"People are fascinated by having something that is older than the earth, something that comes from space," explains Prof. Garvie. "So you could have people willing to pay a few hundred or a thousand dollars for a small piece. But nobody would pay millions for a bigger boulder."
In fact, the price usually goes down as the size of the piece increases.
Meteorites are common in deserts
He also doubts that anyone would buy the items on Ebay at the asking price. Experts expect they'll pick maybe half that.
If the market value of a meteorite is difficult to determine, what is the real value of the Sumatran rock? The professor in Arizona says it's about 70-80% clay, basically "an alien ball of mud".
"It's dominated by some iron, oxygen, magnesium, aluminum, and calcium - that's probably worth a dollar, two if I'm generous."
He thinks it could have been about a meter when it entered the earth's atmosphere. On entry, only a few parts would have reached the ground - one of them crashed through the roof of Joshua Hutagalung's house.
The building blocks of early life
The only thing that is certain in meteorites, the scientific value of such finds is.
The meteorite found in Sumatra is a carbonaceous chondrite. "Remnants of the early solar system provide a window of time for pre-planetary events," Jason Scott Herrin of Earth Observatory Singapore told the BBC.
Since they contain organic compounds and have been falling on Earth since the beginning of our planet, meteorites "could have brought the building blocks of early life with them," he explains. "They are highest in the non-terrestrial amino acids of a meteorite group and are therefore often used as input for early life hypotheses."
In essence, it means that stones like the scientist found by Joshua can provide clues as to the beginning of life on earth.
It's a scientific payoff, not measured in millions of dollars, but rather the reason why people are initially fascinated by meteorites.

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