Surprise -- those $17 pieces of Russian meteor might not be real

As scientists test 53 meteor fragments at Urals Federal University, scammers hawk fakes online

Russian scientists say they have begun testing multiple fragments of a meteor that crashed near the Ural-mountain city of Chelyabinsk. And, as scientists test the real fragments, officials say they are investigating online scams in which vendors are selling fake meteorite pieces.

Many of the real fragments have been located by scientists near Chebarkul Lake, about 80 km from Chelyabinsk. One of the scientists involved in the meteorite recovery told Bloomburg News that they have found 53 meteor fragments, which are now being tested.

The meteorite also created a hole in the lake ice, but divers have not yet located a larger chunk of meteorite under water. The pieces discovered so far are all small, and range in size from 1 millimetre to one centimetre.

In this photo distributed by the Urals Federal University Press Service a researcher examines pieces of a meteorite in a laboratory in Yekaterinburg on Monday, Feb.18, 2013. (The Urals Federal University Press Service, Alexander Khlopotov/AP)

Russian television stations broadcast footage of the scientists at work. It showed them combing the area around the meteorite hole for more fragments.

Meanwhile, scammers are getting to work making a buck where they can. In the hours after the meteor whizzed by, injuring hundreds as glass shattered, ads for meteorite pieces popped up on online auction sites. One user on Avito.Ru offered “Meteor from the news” for about $17 a piece, reports the International Business Times. Some pieces of the space rock were being offered for up to $10,000 and the Interior Ministry says it’s investigating the sales.

While some of the offers may have been legitimate, it can be difficult to tell a real meteorite from a regular chunk of rock. There are some exterior signs that signify a real meteorite, but the only sure-fire way to tell is to get it examined by a professional under a microscope, reports The Guardian. Buying through the International Meteorite Collectors Association is also a good way to get the real thing.

While some are trying to cash in on the event immediately, The Voice of Russia radio reports Chebarkul Lake is predicted to become a top tourist attraction. “Some 70 kilometers from the city there is a beautiful lake where a meteorite fell. People will be coming to this lake to dive and look for its fragments,” Sen. Konstantin Tsybko told reporters.

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