For sale: A smuggled fragment of the history of the universe

Collector reveals how Chelyabinsk meteorite got from deep space to Edinburgh auction room

A fragment of the meteor that injured more than 1,500 people when it exploded over a Russian town earlier this year is to go on sale in Edinburgh next week after it was smuggled out of the country by a British collector.

Dramatic footage of the Chelyabinsk meteor in February showed a fireball tearing across the sky at 41,000mph. The chunk of space rock, about 50 feet in diameter and weighing 10,000 tons, exploded into fragments as it hit the earth’s atmosphere. The shock wave was so powerful that it travelled around the earth twice, and residents of the central Russian region were left cowering as windows were shattered and buildings rocked.

In the aftermath, thousands of Russians combed the countryside hoping to find pieces of meteorite, and 50 fragments found their way to Robert Elliot in Milton of Bagonie, a village in Fife. The 52-year-old, described as the “Indiana Jones of the meteorite world” for his dedication to seeking prized finds from across the globe, managed to sneak the valuable pieces past strict Russian customs officials.

“The government was threatening all of the locals there, saying if you sell these overseas you’re going to be in big trouble,” he said. “What my contact did was take 60 pieces of meteorite and mix them up with electronic components. There were some old vacuum tubes in there, the old valves that used to glow in the back of radio sets.”

Some fifty of the pieces made it out. The fragment up for auction on Tuesday is expected to fetch £400, and the other 90 lots from Mr Elliot’s collection should bag him about £70,000. A previous auction brought in £200,000. A spokesman for the auctioneer, Lyon & Turnbull, said several Russian buyers had expressed an interest, so the fragment could well end up back where it was found.

Mr Elliot, a former military electronics engineer who retired 20 years ago, is used to encountering trouble out in the field. He was searching for remnants of the 1912 Holbrook meteor in the Arizona desert when a sheriff pulled a gun on him. “It’s Navajo Indian territory,” he said. “It’s illegal to hunt for Indian artefacts – you can hunt for meteorites but you can’t take any beads or arrowheads.” The sheriff thought he was there illegally, and Mr Elliot’s improvised meteorite-hunting device escalated the situation. “I use a golf club with the end cut off with a magnet glued on. As I walked towards him I lifted my golf club and rested it on my shoulder, and he thought I was going for him.”

The collector has even engaged in disputes closer to home. He posted a £20,000 reward in the local paper after a fireball was spotted in Carlow, Ireland. “I got in all sorts of trouble with the media in Ireland because they were protesting that I’d nicked their Irish meteorite. As I said, there was nothing Irish about it. It came from space.”

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Sport
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Sport
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
Arts and Entertainment
A top literary agent has compared online giant Amazon to Isis
arts + entsAndrew Wylie has pulled no punches in criticism of Amazon
Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would
tv

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes