A Riddle Concerning the Ownership of a Rock

What mineral is illegal to sell in the USA?

Hint: If the seller is selling the genuine mineral then they would be arrested for theft, or if it is a fake then they could be charged with fraud!

Question Mark

Flickr photo by Purple Slog

On Sunday May 22, 2011, Robert Jablon of the Associated Press reported that when a woman tried to sell a rock for $1.7 million dollars she was detained and could be charged.  She would be charged with fraud if the rocks were not what she claimed and she would be charged with theft if the rocks were authentic.  What was she selling?  Who caught her?  Why bother trapping this woman?

The woman, who tried to sell what she said was a rare piece of moon rock for $1.7 million, was detained when her would-be buyer turned out to be an undercover NASA agent, officials said.

Moon Rock on loan from NASA

Flickr photo by MuseumWales

The gray rocks, which are considered national treasures and are illegal to sell, were given to each U.S. state and 136 countries by then-President Richard Nixon after U.S. moon missions and can sell for millions of dollars on the black market.

Authorities swooped in after the two agreed on a price and the woman, whose name has not been released, pulled out the rock.  NASA planned to conduct tests to determine whether the rock came from the moon as the woman claimed.

Joseph Gutheinz, a University of Arizona instructor and former NASA investigator who has spent years tracking down missing moon rocks, said a lunar curator at a special lab at Johnson Space Center would carry out the testing.

Testing Moon Rocks

The woman has not been arrested or charged. It was unknown how she obtained the rock or came to the attention of NASA.

Gutheinz said the woman could face theft charges if the rock is genuine, or fraud charges if it is not.

About 2,200 samples of lunar rocks, core samples, pebbles, sand and dust – weighing about 840 pounds – were brought to Earth by NASA’s Apollo lunar landing missions from 1969 to 1972.  NASA houses 70% of its lunar rock and soil samples at Johnson Space Center, and another 14% are in New Mexico.  The rest are either on loan for study or display – or are unaccounted for.

The Moon Rock Story

The full story can be found  in an article in the  San Francisco Chronicle.

Your Input (Join our poll or scroll down and leave a comment)

I plan to introduce different gemstones alphabetically.  I will start with “A” (Ammolite) and see where it leads me.  Leave a comment and let me know if you have a favourite gemstone that starts with the letter “E” (other than emerald).  Take the poll (Emerald is the most popular gemstone so far)!  Can you name a reference to a gemstone in a song, movie or book?


About Jen McKercher

Jennifer McKercher teaches gemmology at the Canadian Gemmological Association. A passion for gemstones drives Jen to learn as much as she can about the wonders of gemstones and how they enhance our lives.

Posted on July 2, 2011, in Trivia and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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