January 29, 2010
Meteorite enthusiasts—c’mon, what’s not to love about a meteorite?—are abuzz over the news that the “Lorton meteorite,” which smashed through the roof of a medical office outside Washington, D.C., on January 18, is the chondrite du jour in a controversy over who owns it.
Doctors Marc Gallini and Frank Ciampi, who rent the office space in which the meteorite landed, had planned to donate what Gallini calls “the people’s rock” to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The museum wanted to give the physicians $5,000 for their generous gesture: they would have likely earned a great deal more by selling it on the open market. So the doctors said, okay then, we’ll donate the $5,000 to Haiti earthquake relief.
Win-win? Nuh-uh, say the doctors’ landlords, who claim the law is on their side regarding ownership of space rocks that make it all the way to Earth. The Washington Post reports that “the landlords…were coming to take the stone out of the Smithsonian by sundown,” which evokes images of a stand-off in a Western B-movie.