C.W. Gusewell


Meteor mania rocks Siberia

This may be sung to the tune of “Pennies From Heaven”:

Every time it rains, it rains

Rubles from heaven

Don’t you know each meteor contains

Rubles from heaven

You’ll find your fortune falling

All over town

But don’t let Putin’s goons nab you

They’ll bring you down

For the hardy people of Siberia, where temperatures in winter slide away to minus 50 and lower, a little unexpected luck can ease the passage to a sweeter season.

But for citizens of the threadbare town of Deputatskoye, the luck that arrived three weeks ago also brought with it terror and ruin.

Shock waves from the explosion of an inbound meteor – the largest object from space to enter Earth’s atmosphere since the Tunguska meteor strike of 1908 – blew out windows, damaged buildings and caused many injuries, mostly from flying glass.

Siberians, however, are nothing if not resourceful. They like to say they can make vodka out of a wooden chair or an old shoe. And immediately after the big boom, they set about turning the lemon into lemonade.

Disintegrating with almost the force of a nuclear blast, the cosmic intruder had scattered pieces of itself across a wide reach of the snowy landscape.

So the treasure hunt began.

News accounts told of adults and children poking into the wintry drifts and holes in the ice of frozen lakes and plucking out black objects that they believed might be of value.

And, sure enough, buyers showed up.

One woman, a story said, sold a rock she found stuck in her roof for more than $200, only to be offered $1,300 by another interested party.

Understand, in the economy of a place like Deputatskoye, such a sum is almost a fortune.

To the dismay of scientists, there’s an extensive world marketplace for space rocks. This past October, a 9-inch fragment of the Seymchan meteorite, found in 1960 in eastern Siberia, was sold in New York for $42,750.

The worry on the part of the current Russian rock hunters is that corrupt authorities might confiscate the finds to sell for their own benefit.

Ordinary Russians are a decent, hardworking but often misused people. And given the sorry state of law and official rectitude in their country, their concern is fully justified.