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A Brief, Kooky History of People Stealing Meteorites in Argentina

Get ready, this story is filled with all sorts of weirdness.

By | [email protected] | May 29, 2019 9:00am

the_color_out_of_space_stillRobert A. Haag (Photo via El color que cayó del cielo, the documentary)
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Lost in the very busy news cycle that includes the opening of the Paseo del Bajo, tomorrow’s general strike, and the presentation of the abortion bill in Congress for the eight time (yep, the eighth time. People, come on, let’s make it happen) came a little tidbit of oddball news from the province of Chaco, one of those that always tend to catch our attention here at The Bubble. It turns out three burglars, armed with handguns, broke into the Campo del Cielo theme park on Sunday, apprehended the park’s female ranger, and stole three meteorites, two weighing 25 kilograms and the other one 18 kilos.

Upon first hearing of this whole Ocean’s Eleven (Ocean’s Once?) operation, we immediately thought of this. But upon further review, we discovered this is just the latest in a long, very strange history surrounding meteorites in the region.

The spaces left vacant by the stolen meteorites  (Photo via Chaco Día Por Día)

For a bit of context, we have to get into the history of Campo del Cielo park, which stands 15 kilometers away from the town of Gancedo. The area was the landing spot for a massive meteorite shower some 4,500 years ago, one that left an impressive array of space rocks. In 1969, the place became especially famous when Chaco, a 28.8-ton meteorite was discovered, becoming the second-largest ever found on planet Earth, behind only 66-ton behemoth called Hoba, found in Namibia. The discovery was made by none other than William Cassidy, a sort of Indiana Jones figure who, along with Argentine geologist Luisa Villar, researched the area extensively.

Chaco (the rock, not the province) was eventually left mostly abandoned, until 1990 when a meteorite hunter (that is apparently a thing, yes) named Robert A. Haag traveled to Argentina, offered to buy the huge thing and, when refused, then tried to steal it. That’s right, Mr. Haag tried to steal a meteorite from Argentina. Needless to say, the whole operation was a massive 28.8-ton failure, and Chaco was returned to Campo del Cielo.

It’s important to point out that meteorites have become a very, very valuable commodity in the last decades, with collectors riding an international boom and pieces of these bad boys going for very high amounts of cash in auctions all over the world. The Haag ordeal actually prompted local authorities to protect Chaco (the province, not the rock) and encouraged them to postulate Campo del Cielo as a World Heritage Site, a petition that is still being studied to this day.

This whole too-weird-to-be-true story can be explored in full thanks to a very entertaining Argentine documentary called El color que cayó del cielo (The Color that Fell from Space) which is available at Cine.Ar. The 2014 film includes an insane interview with Haag himself, a guy that seems like a parody of a parody of a parody.

In 2009, a group made up exclusively by chaqueños discovered an even bigger meteorite than Chaco, a 30.8-ton giant that was christened Gancedo. Since this discovery, space rock trafficking has again gone rampant. In 2015, a massive robbery of close to 1,500 kilograms of meteorites was avoided thanks to the diligence of local authorities, but the market for the rocks continues to be on the rise.

According to estimates made by the authorities, the estimated price for a gram of a piece can be around  US $200. Sunday’s events have still not shed any light on possible motives, but it’s pretty clear that the black market might have something to do with it.

Screw stealing necklaces from fancy jewelry stores or famous paintings from museums. The best heist stories might just be in our own backyard, and they involve a bunch of space rocks and some meteorite hunters (again, still a thing).