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OUT OF THIS WORLD - PRICE OF MARS ROCKS SKYROCKETS

SHARE OUT OF THIS WORLD - PRICE OF MARS ROCKS SKYROCKETS

Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, as the late Marilyn Monroe once cooed, but right now she shouldn't turn up her nose at a Martian meteorite.

The price of those rare rocks is accelerating at warp speed in the aftermath of an Aug. 7 claim by a NASA-funded science team that fos-sil evidence of primitive life is present in a Martian meteorite recovered from Antarctica."Last week was a very good week for Martian real estate," said Darryl Pitt, a New York music man-agement company executive who is curator of the large, privately owned Macovich Collection of meteorites.

Among those riding the rocket is Houston businessman John Styles Jr.

"This is kind of like having a great stock," said Styles, whose collection includes a chunk of the Red Planet. "Not a penny stock or a junk bond. It's like having stock in Coca-Cola after it announces it's going to buy Pepsi and everything else."

Pitt, who counsels other collectors, said it was possible "prior to this whole thing to buy a gram of Zagami, say a month ago, for anywhere between $200 and $500 a gram. Since this whole life on Mars news, I've heard prices of $2,000 a gram, but one can get if for less."

Zagami is part of a litany of exotic terms with which the novice must come to grips when wading into the world of meteorite collecting. It refers to Zagami, Nigeria, the site of a 1962 meteorite find. The 40 pounds of debris found at the impact site make up one of only a dozen finds now recognized by experts as having Martian origins.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the total weight of all known Martian meteorites on Earth is just 170 pounds.

An estimated 20,000 meteorites of differing origins have been found worldwide. Though many end up in museums and science laboratories, there are substantial numbers in private collections, say experts.

Because it is one of the largest Martian finds, pieces of Zagami are considered the most reasonably priced of the meteorites from the Red Planet. The material is gray on the inside with a rough, unattractive black crust.

NASA's discovery of evidence of life on Mars came from a 4.2-pound, potato-sized meteorite referred to as Allan Hills 84001. The greenish rock was plucked from the Antarctic ice by a National Science Foundation expedition. Though not for sale, its potential to attain historic status if teams of researchers concur with NASA's claim would cause its value to soar.