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From time to time, at the science museum where I work, individuals will stop by with something which they perceive to be a rocky visitor from space: a meteorite. On more than one occasion, such individuals have phoned me and informed me of their “find” in a hushed breath, as if someone were listening in on our conversation with the express purpose of relieving them of what they consider to be more precious than diamonds.
Meteorites are rare, but they are not as precious as diamonds. For something more precious than diamonds, consider a moon rock. Many meteorites fall throughout the year, and despite the fact that many are incinerated by the atmosphere, I would daresay the quantity of meteoric fragments arriving annually from above, exceeds the quantity of diamonds annually arriving from below, dug up from diamond mines.
Of the number of “finds” which have been brought into the museum for my judging, I have found them all to be either basaltic igneous rock or slag, which has that “fired” look, igniting those meteoric hopes. Not long ago, one man came in, visibly concealing something under his shirt. He felt certain that it was a meteorite, and he feared that if it’s presence were known, someone would attempt to take it from him, so he felt compelled to conceal it so securely within his personal space.
When the gentleman finally produced his find for me, awkwardly taking it out from beneath his shirt, I informed him, with saddened demeanor, that his stone was ordinary basalt. In some places, it works its way up to the surface almost in the same manner as those quartz rocks (which continue to do so, even to this very day) in my old yard on the Old Concord Road.
After he left, saddened, I also reflected, with equal sadness, on an occurrence in my youth.
Every child, especially one who is into astronomy, always hopes that a meteorite will either land in his backyard (a small meteorite, of course, not like the one which produced the mile-wide, 600 foot deep meteor crater in Arizona) or that he will find one which has already fallen. Well, this was the case with me at about 11 years of age in 1962, and still is today, actually, because the thrill of a possible rocky visitor from outer space never goes away.
Our neighbor, Mr. Cline, lived across the road from us and had a cow pasture which extended for several acres behind his house. I would go down there on many solitary nature jaunts, looking at mushrooms, insects, or whatever else could be seen.
One day, I saw this large, blackish-gray rock about two feet wide, with several smaller chunks of the same material lying around it. I immediately said to myself, “This must be a meteorite; it struck the ground, and these smaller chunks broke off of it!” I still had a little red wagon from several years before, and when I told the other neighborhood kids about my find, they all went along and helped me load it into the wagon, also helping me to pull the extremely heavy (another characteristic which, in my mind, made it a meteorite) object to my home. It seemed as if all of the neighborhood youth had gleefully joined in on an endeavor of the neighborhood “science kid”.
I managed to chip off a piece which looked fresh and unweathered underneath. The “pristine” section of black rock contained what resembled miniature, fragmented, glistening, linear crystal-like structures, which I had never seen before (adding to its look of otherworldliness). I took that chipped-off piece to a geology professor at Catawba College, who rather matter-of-factly, without much ado or empathy (unlike my saddened countenance upon seeing what that recent gentleman had secreted under his shirt), pronounced it to be gabbro, a very dark, dense, basaltic rock that has outcroppings in the North Carolina Piedmont. I still have a little chunk of it in my rock collection today.
A lot had fallen to the ground in Mr. Cline’s cow pasture over the course of the years, but unfortunately, none of that included a meteorite.

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