Virginia Meteorite Sparks Ownership Debate
The small meteorite that fell from the sky into a doctor's office in Virgina Jan. 18, 2010.
Credit: Linda Welzenbach/Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

A meteorite that crashed through a Virginia doctor's office last month is now igniting a legal debate over who owns the valuable rock.

The half-pound space rock landed Jan. 18, crashing through the roof of the Lorton, Va. building and cracking into a few pieces when it hit the ground. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Shortly after it was recognized as a space rock, the doctors, Marc Gallini and Frank Ciampi, gave it to the nearby Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, which offered $5,000 in return. The doctors said they planned to donate the money to Haiti earthquake relief efforts, the Washington Post reported.

But the plot thickened: The landlords of the building where the meteorite landed are claiming the doctors had no right to give the rock away, and want it back.

Meteorite dealer Robert A. Haag told the Washington Post the Lorton rock could fetch at least $50,000.

And the landlords could have a case.

According to a presentation at the 64th Annual Meteoritical Society Meeting in 2001 by D. G. Schmitt, McEwen, Schmitt & Co. Barristers and Solicitors of Vancouver, Canada, in the United States, "a find is owned by the landowner."

For now, the Smithsonian is holding onto the meteorite until the legal wrangling is over. The museum?s meteorite experts have said that it is very rare for meteorites to strike manmade structures on Earth.

There are only three other documented instances of space rocks falling to Earth in Virginia, museum officials said. The first was in 1878, they added.