Treasure hunters are cashing in on a meteorite that crashed into China

What a treasure.
What a treasure.
Image: AP Photo/Marco Ugarte
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It’s not uncommon to have meteorites slamming into the earth. To scientists, these space rocks can reveal the stories of planets and asteroids. But some Chinese people instead see them as small fortunes.

Treasure hunters in China’s Yunnan province are searching for fragments of a meteorite after seeing a bright light streak across the sky on Friday (June 1). Footage from state broadcaster CGTN showed the dazzling light quickly turning into a flaming ball.

Videos of people finding meteorite fragments started spreading the following day, drawing not just scientists but also villagers and out-of-towners to Menghai county, some of whom are hoping to sell the space artifacts for hefty sums. As of Monday, more than 200 pieces have been found, and some residents are even worshipping a found fragment of meteorite.

One piece that weighed some 20 grams was sold for about 24,000 yuan ($3,700), according to Jiang Wei (link in Chinese), a meteorite expert who traveled to Menghai county. In another case, a local farmer who found a 150-gram rock was hoping to sell it for over 200,000 yuan ($31,200)—an amount equal to about 10 times the average income (link in Chinese) for a family in the county.

Jiang said at least a thousand people have participated in the hunt. “The price of the meteorite fragment has reached far beyond a reasonable price,” Jiang told (link in Chinese) Chinese newspaper Beijing Youth Daily. In October, a meteorite association put up a 10,000 yuan ($1,600) bounty for fresh fragments—as the information contained (link in Chinese) within the rocks fades with time—after a meteorite crashed into Yunnan, but no one was able to collect it.