James Hyslop, Christie’s Head of Science and Natural History, explains why this lunar meteorite will probably be the largest example to ever come to market
‘This is the fifth largest piece of the Moon on Earth,’ declares Christie’s Head of Science and Natural History James Hyslop. ‘Weighing over 13.5kg, it is much larger than any example returned by the Apollo programme.’
The lunar meteorite in question, known as NWA 12691, plummeted to Earth as part of a large meteorite shower over the Western Sahara, where the borders of Algeria and Mauritania meet. The exact date of the shower is unknown, but it has been determined that it was responsible for at least 30 known lunar meteorites.
According to Hyslop, NWA 12691 probably landed on Earth hundreds — if not thousands — of years ago, after being blasted off the Moon’s surface by the collision of an asteroid or comet.
Unsurprisingly, Moon rock is one of the rarest substances found on Earth. In addition to the approximately 400 kg of Moon rock returned by Apollo astronauts in the 1960s and ’70s, there is only an additional 650 kg of known lunar meteorites. ‘They would all fit comfortably inside a very small car,’ claims Hyslop.
Lunar meteorites are formed from the near-surface regions of the Moon known as the lunar regolith, and contain a combination of minerals that are rare or unknown on Earth. The official classification and publication of this meteorite, says Hyslop, was performed by Dr. Tony Irving, the world’s foremost expert in the classification of lunar meteorites.
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The present example was discovered in North Africa by an anonymous researcher two years ago. It later entered the prestigious collection of Dr. Lawrence Stifler, one of the foremost collectors of meteorites in the world.
Valued in the region of £2 million, NWA 12691 is currently offered for private sale at Christie’s. ‘It will probably be the largest example to ever come to market,’ enthuses Hyslop. ‘Every time I see it in the warehouse the sheer size of it bowls me over. The experience of holding a piece of another world in your hands is something you never forget.’