The 22-lb. (10 kilograms) meteorite is believed to have touched down in the 1930s on a farm in Edmore, Michigan. Earlier this year, the man who purchased the farm in 1988 and obtained the meteorite as part of the property brought the space rock to Central Michigan University (CMU) for examination.
Mona Sirbescu, a geology professor at CMU, took a closer look at the rock. Although many people had asked her to examine rocks in the past, she knew this time was different, she said. As it turns out, this meteorite is the sixth largest recorded find in Michigan and potentially worth $100,000, according to a statement from CMU. [Mars Meteorites: Pieces of the Red Planet on Earth (Photos)]
"I could tell right away that this was something special," Sirbescu said in the statement from CMU. "It's the most valuable specimen I have ever held in my life, monetarily and scientifically."
When the man purchased the farm in 1988, he was told that the rock holding open the barn door was in fact a meteorite that the previous owners witnessed fall from the night sky in the 1930s. The rock created a hole in the ground when it fell to Earth, and when the farmer and his son went out to recover the object in the morning, it was still warm, according to the statement.
The rock remained a barn doorstop for the last 30 years, after the current owner purchased the farm. However, when people found small meteorites after the meteor that blazed through Michigan skies this past January, the farm's current owner wondered how much his doorstop was worth.
Meteorites are pieces of natural space debris that break off of asteroids or comets, fall through Earth's atmosphere and reach the planet's surface. While large impacts are fairly rare, thousands of meteorites weighing about a pound (0.5 kg) hit the ground each year.
Using X-ray fluorescence instruments, Sirbescu found that the doorstop meteorite is about 88 percent iron and 12 percent nickel, a metal rarely found on Earth, according to the statement.
Sirbescu sent a sample of the space rock to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where researchers further analyzed the rock and confirmed it to be a meteorite.
A sample of the meteorite was also sent to John Wasson, a professor in the Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences department at the University of California, Los Angeles. Wasson is considered the "guru of iron meteorites" and will perform a neutron-activation analysis to determine the meteorite's chemical composition. This, in turn, could reveal rare elements that would increase the meteorite's value, according to the statement.
"Just think — what I was holding is a piece of the early solar system that literally fell into our hands," Sirbescu said.
The farmer has not yet decided whether the meteorite will be sold to a collector or a museum to be put on display. Both the Smithsonian and a Maine museum are considering purchasing the rock, according to the statement.
Regardless, when the meteorite is sold, the man has promised to donate some of the money to CMU. However, students at the university have already benefited by being able to hold a real-life meteorite, Sirbescu said.