He is one of those lucky people who have turned their obsessions into professions, a keen geologist who started out looking for dinosaurs in his native León and who has travelled all around the world – he only has Australia left to visit – hunting for meteorites. José Vicente Casado is one of only a handful of meteorite hunters in Spain, and the only one able to dedicate himself to it full-time. With “Litos“, his company that sells all types of minerals, he has spent 22 years answering the call of Expominer, the fair that Fira de Barcelona has been organizing for the last 39 years and which is leader in the sector in Spain and a reference in Southern Europe.
How does one become a “meteorite hunter”?
By learning to spot them and tell them apart from the surrounding Earth rocks and, of course, by going to the places where they have recently fallen or to the deserts where they accumulated over time. You become a meteorite hunter when you get so involved in it that you make a thing as complex as this into your way of life.
What was about meteorites that interested you?
The information that they give us about a part of the universe that we could never examine up close without them. They are fascinating rocks.
Can you make a living off meteorites?
Some people have, but only in the United States or the more developed countries of Europe where there are enough people interested in science.
Are you the only Spanish hunter?
No, we are a group of friends who go on expeditions together, but they all have other jobs, while I spend nearly all my time on these special minerals.
And in the rest of the world?
There are a lot of people who trade in meteorites, buying them from others, and others who make exhibitions, or even jewellery, but I reckon there aren’t many who go out looking for meteorites, no more than 30 or 40.
How do you “hunt” a meteorite?
Covering the ground, looking at rocks and identifying them. The hardest part at first is knowing where to look. Then you need to have a good eye and a lot of luck. You also have to know how to gather them, take down their coordinates, weight, shape and so on…the activity is very systematic.
Are there zones where they fall more often than others?
Absolutely not. I say this because there are a lot of myths and legends on the subject. They fall everywhere on Earth. They are easier to find in deserts, but because the terrain is clearer. We find more of them where we can see them more easily.
How can we tell them apart from simple rocks?
With experience, after having seen thousands. Even so, with all that we have learned, we still make mistakes sometimes. In general, however, meteorites have exclusive external and internal features that help us to identify them. Even though there is one type of meteorite that looks a lot like the Earth’s basalt rocks and these are difficult to spot.
Can we predict when and where they will fall?
It’s very difficult but it happened once before in 2008. A small body was observed approaching the Earth when it was just a few hours from impact. The fragments eventually fell over the Sudan, but the great majority fall without us knowing where or when it happens.
Quantity and quality
– How many meteorites do you have at home?
– Which one is the most valuable?
I paid €30,000 for a meteorite weighing 600 kilos
– And the cheapest?
Most meteorites are practically worthless, only €100 a kilo
– Are you specially attached to one of them?
I found one that came from Mars that weighs half a kilo