The spectacular meteorite that exploded in a fireball over Russia's Ural Mountains and sent shock waves through the city of Chelyabinsk on Friday may have been a blessing in disguise for its impoverished residents. When the meteorite exploded, it showered the city with thousands of tiny black stones that may be worth more than their weight in gold.
The New York Times reported that strangers were offering stacks of rubles worth hundreds, even thousands, of dollars to local residents for the meteorite fragments.
NASA reported that the 55-foot, 7,000-ton meteorite was the largest known celestial body to enter the Earth’s atmosphere in 100 years. The agency characterized the meteorite as an "airburst fireball type" and predicted that it would shower untold thousands of fragments onto the surface. NASA was right.
Despite the damage and injuries caused by the meteorite's powerful shock waves, news agencies were also reporting that the event sparked a new "gold rush" as local residents, including small children, were scrambling to retrieve the valuable fragments, many buried in deep February snows.
Specifically, they were looking for small holes in the snow that held the celestial treasure — a polished oval black pebble encased in tiny clumps of ice, formed from the last expiring heat of their long journey.
“All it takes is looking carefully,” eight-year-old Sasha Zarezina told a reporter on Monday. “The stones are in the snowdrifts. To find a stone you find a hole. And then you dig.”
“They fell everywhere in the village,” said Alfia N. Zharkova, a mother of two, who has a plastic bag filled with black stones. “The children find them. Everybody who has children has piles of these.”
Larisa V. Briyukova discovered a fist-size stone under a hole in the roof tiles of her woodshed. A stranger offered her $60, and after some haggling, Briyukova accepted $230. Later, another stranger, having seen the hole in the roof, offered her $1,300 for the stone responsible the damage, but it was already sold.