Farmer Bruce Lilienthal found an odd rock on his land in 2011. He dragged it to his driveway and dropped the 33-pound beast beside a pile of other rocks pulled from his acreage. Then Lilienthal forgot about it. His wife Nelva didn’t.
Nelva suspected the rock was a meteorite, and she was proven right this year after the farming couple took the specimen to the University of Minnesota for an answer. Bruce, a corn and soybean farmer in Arlington, Minn., had hit the jackpot. The meteorite, part of an asteroid, may be close to 4.6 billion years old. According to the Star Tribune , “It contains more than 90 percent iron and about 8 percent nickel.”
Bruce told the Star Tribune that he hasn’t decided what to do with the asteroid chunk: “Right now, it’s just the center of conversation. Maybe we’ll sell it or keep it as a family heirloom — unless we find a bigger one.”
At 33 pounds in weight, 16 inches long and 2 inches wide, if the Lilienthals decide to sell, their meteorite will attract a fine price — cash on the barrelhead. There is massive demand for meteorites, with buyers strung out across the globe. A meteorite shower and explosion over Russia’s Ural mountains in 2012 caused a Klondike stampede of thousands of rock hunters. The blast was historic, with 1,000 people injured and over $30 million in damage. The fragments were snapped up quickly and fought over in a market frenzy.
MoneyWatch  reports a Martian meteorite sold for $94,000 in 2012; it weighed only 10.5 ounces. And in 2012 a lunar meteorite sold for $330,000.
The number is debated, but possibly 5,000-17,000 meteorites  scream into Earth’s atmosphere each year, most of them swallowed by the ocean. But farmland, as with the Lillienthal’s discovery, claims a share as well. Farmland is scoured for Indian pottery and stone tools, but meteorite hunting is a rarity. Arizona’s Michael Farmer, possibly the world’s most well-known meteorite hunter, walks farmland searching for meteorites — and everywhere else too. Farmer has searched in over 70 countries for meteorites while being thrown in prison, robbed and nearly murdered. “It’s a dangerous line of work because it involves money, and people want that money,” Farmer told National Geographic .
He’s made several major finds, in particular a major haul in Canada: “… the best meteorite I found was with my three partners up in Canada. It was actually discovered in 1931, but we went back to the location and discovered 53 kilograms [117 pounds] more. It’s an extremely rare type of meteorite called a pallasite, and it’s about 4.5 billion years old. We sold it to the Canadian government for just under a million dollars. Now it’s in the Royal Ontario Museum, in Toronto, and it’s considered a national treasure.”
If Bruce Lilienthal has been thrown any concrete offers for his 33-pounder, he isn’t saying. But you can be sure the next time he clears a field for planting and dumps a rock on the pile beside the driveway, Nelva will be right there, taking a long look.
Twitter: @CBennett71