The 50ft-wide meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia on February 15th, 2013 and shocked the world via dozens of Russian dashcams is now turning up, piece by tiny charred piece, on China's online sales website Taobao... or is it?
“Caveat emptor” may mean “let the buyer beware” in Latin but its meaning is universal – especially when pieces of said universe begin turning up on the Internet not long after the super shooting star event occurred.
The online Meteor Rush is fed by demand and greed, the latter facilitated by the fact that online sales prevent buyers from doing the necessary due diligence required to differentiate space rocks from Earth rocks. Sellers are hoping that potential buyers will pay their money and take their chances; some state plainly that “you may think it's fake, but it's not something you can find every day.”
If the needle on your inner scam-o-meter isn't already edging into the red, some sellers' bold hints of magical properties embodied in these supposed interstellar scraps of shrapnel should set off alarms louder than the sonic boom generated by the meteor... the real one, that is.
In an age where “I want to believe” is the mantra of the masses and hundreds of the faithful line up to see rust stains and grilled cheese sandwiches displaying the likeness of religious heavyweights, it's not surprising that enterprising entrepreneurs are playing on the desires of the world's meteorite-less. Problems crop up, however, when quick-buck artists embellish their sales spiels with bogus claims of the rock fragments' “miraculous” powers.
One Taobao vender who goes by the name of Yue resurrected an age-old superstition by stating “Meteorites have strong energy that can drive away evil spirits as well as treat certain diseases like depression.” Yue lie!
Then there's this seller, who describes (via Google Translate) the palm-sized item shown at left as “Black meteorite energy super to go evil Baoping arrangements disaster problem-solving Che.” A bargain to be sure at just 150 yuan (about $23).
Other purported Chelyabinsk meteorites are priced up to 100,000 yuan or roughly $15,000! “The majority of the meteorites sold on Taobao are fake,” warned Zhu Jin, curator of the Beijing Planetarium, “and the buyers should be very careful.” Thank you Zhu Jin, China's answer to Ric Romero.
The images accompanying this report appeared (at press time) on the first three pages of Taobao search results for the phrase “Russia's Chelyabinsk meteorite fragments” in Chinese. Some ads include images of the meteor's contrail and the widely-publicized circular hole in the ice covering Lake Chebarkul.
According to Global Times, as of last Sunday approximately “100 threads on Taobao... were about Russian meteorites.” Curiously (or maybe not), CNN reported that Russian scientists at the scene had only recovered about 50 small fragments so you do the math. Caveat emptor indeed.