An Article In Meteorite-Times Magazine

This feature is devoted each month to one of the personalities within the meteorite community. This month we are delighted to share an interview we had with Kevin Kichinka MARSROX@gmail.com


Kevin appeared in a USA Today newspaper feature about internet trends in 1999.
 

To commemorate his ten years of romancing the stones, Kevin Kichinka breaks away from his MARSROX to respond to questions submitted by the Meteorite-Times.

Kevin’s planetary impact on the meteorite scene began in May, 1998 when the New Zealand journal Meteorite! published his report on the events and science subsequent to the 1911 fall of Nakhla, a meteorite from Mars that became the astronomical crown jewel of Egypt.

A forensic effort to trace each fragment of this meteorite’s long-established 40 kilogram total known weight (TKW) led to Kichinka’s discovery of an historic error – only 9.9 kilograms had been recovered. This revision was significant to theoreticians plugging in TKW as a constant in equations constraining the size of the impactor and source crater for Mars meteorites. 

Kevin’s investigation into the sole report of an Egyptian mutt martyred by a falling Nakhla fragment - the most popular legend of meteorites- concluded that the tale of the dog’s demise lacked both bark and bite.

In 1999, Kichinka mobilized a month-long expedition that became an unsuccessful search for Bolivia’s first authenticated meteorite. He returned in 2001 with Blaine Reed, and with logistical support from the Bolivian government, the team recovered Sevaruyo H5 on the Altiplano at 3,749m/12,292’altitude - the world’s highest documented meteorite find.

These achievements were recognized in Tucson in 2002 when Kevin received a Harvey Award for new research and adventure.

Kichinka regularly files reports to Meteorite magazine after conversations with the likes of Catalogue of Meteorites author and meteorite curator Monica Grady of the NHM (London), meteorite curator Brigitte Zanda of the NHM (Paris), and über dealers Rob Elliot of Scotland and Walter Zeitschel of Germany.

Kevin’s feature stories on Mars meteorites Nakhla and Chassigny merited re-publication by Dave Weir on his award-winning website (www.meteoritestudies.com) and are referenced in the Mars Meteorite Compendium compiled by Charles Meyer of NASA ( http://www-curator.jsc.nasa.gov/curator/antmet/mmc/mmc.htm ).

In 2004, Kichinka wrote of a forgotten injustice, noting that the Widmanstätten Pattern of iron meteorites was misnamed, having been observed, then published by William Thomson four and twenty years, respectively, earlier then Alois Widmanstätten. Kevin supports calling this key classification aid the “Thomson Structure”, a name coined by O. Richard Norton who has also identified this misnomer (Cambridge Encyclopedia of Meteorites, p.184).

Kichinka’s latest contribution to the field, a book entitled “The Art of Collecting Meteorites”, debuted earlier this year.


 

Meteorite Times (MT) - Before we address the origins of your interest in meteorites, why not tell us about your new book, The Art of Collecting Meteorites?

Kevin Kichinka (KK) – The idea for The Art  percolated from discussions over fine cigars that Steve Arnold and I had a few years ago. He was worried about flagging interest in meteorites and thought that a book of this nature might funnel new blood into the hobby. I was concerned about the lack of organization among collectors which I felt would lead to the eventual loss of this precious material known as meteorites. Neither of us had any idea how difficult it would be to get a book out and as reality set in we quietly dropped the idea.

Time passed while I actually waited for someone else to fill this void. But no one did, so I decided to go for it.

There was much more to a book of this nature than putting quill to parchment. I have no corner on picking the longest straw, so I solicited well-respected experts for contributions. This led to continuing communication with Richard and Dorothy Norton, Jeff Grossman, Blaine Reed, Steve Schoner, David New, Bob Haag and Darryl Pitt.

I was pleased to give “first light” to Tom Phillip’s astounding microscopic meteorite images.

 
A chondrule from an unclassified NWA meteorite. (Courtesy Tom Phillips)
 

Joel Schiff, the publisher of METEORITE, graciously agreed to edit the final product.


Many others played smaller, but important roles.

Such informed and caring people would not be known to me absent my involvement with meteorites. How lucky I am!

Hemingway was talking to me when he said, “the first draft of anything is crap”. Since I suffer for synonyms and lust to leave polish on every word, I needed three years of writing and re-writing to obtain the quality result I sought.

It was important to me that the book not become just a meteorite hobby “collectable”, purchased and shelved unread. I worked to give the reader value on every page, fresh material about people and events that would compel them to go cover-to-cover.

During this period, I ran an outline of the manuscript past a dozen publishers, including Mountain Press (Rocks from Space), without generating interest. It seems publishers aren’t interested in a book that’s written by an unqualified, unknown author appealing to a market perceived as miniscule.

I didn’t let this bother me too much and by October, 2004 I had a 200+ page book ready to go, even if no one would publish it.

I considered the very inexpensive, self-publish “Print on Demand” (POD) route. Darryl Pitt strongly discouraged the idea, arguing that the book deserved a better treatment. With POD the paper is thin, words can bleed, and all photos are black and white- hardly “The Art” of anything.

Darryl invited me to contact Geoff Notkin, a consummate professional in several technical and artistic areas (see www.stanegate.com), who quickly and cleverly set up the book and built its website. With a CD in hand, I selected a quality printer, opting for the highest-quality enamel paper stock and “all-color” printing. The book was introduced at the Tucson Rock and Gem Show this year.

The Art of Collecting Meteorites is meant to promote the growth of the core values I hold for this hobby- passionate curiosity for the unknown and respect for the material. That’s what this is all about.


Peridot was found inside this nearly 100 gram Glorieta Mountain (pallasite) individual sold to Kevin by Steve Schoner.
 

MT - Inspiring. But what event led you into the hobby? What was your first purchase?

KK – While reading yesterday’s USA Today in the shade of a Cancun umbrella in November, 1995, I came across an article about a future natural history auction in New York City.

I already collected esoterica - indigenous art, seashells, vintage rock posters, opium weights and tropical butterflies.  I hadn’t realized that dinosaur eggs and moon rocks were available to the public. The idea of adding museum-grade fossils and rare rocks to my shelves was irresistible.  I became a moth destined to fly into the fire.

Then I nearly choked on my margarita when I read about a “40-pound sliver of Mars” called “a steal at $1,800”.

Well, not a steal, but a typo.

I requested a catalogue and followed the auction, bidding on nothing. A few phone calls led me to the consigner of the proffered 11.5 gram slice of Mars Zagami, a Mr. Robert Haag in Arizona.


Kevin with a handful of Mars, i.e., the main mass of Zagami, owned by his friend Robert Haag.
 

“Hello, ‘bro!” was the way Bob greeted me when I dialed him up. Grateful for the positive vibe, I told him that I wanted to buy some Zagami, “if he had any left.”

Only the main mass.

“Did you hear about the auction? Zagami brought $500 a gram. I’m rich!”

Bob enthusiastically went on, “You, too, are a lucky man today. I’ve got a fresh-cut, seven-gram slice sitting right in front of me. Wow! It’s got shiny, black fusion crust on one edge. Look at that vein of shock melt down the middle. Killer, man! You’ll love it!”

“Sounds good, Bob. How much?”

“Well I told you that it’s your lucky day, dude.  You’re the last person I’m selling it to for the low price of $200 a gram. Whoopee!”

I felt very lucky……and worried. To whom exactly was I sending $1,400? 

And if I get one “slice” with “crust”, who gets the rest of the loaf?

A “vein of shock melt”? Do I need to ground this bloody thing and handle it with tongs?

Seven grams? I was, uh, more used to oh-zees.

Not even waiting for its arrival from Tucson, the next day I bought another 4.1 grams of Zagami from Russ Kempton of New England Meteoritical Services for $400/ gram. I wanted to get meteorites from Mars, “before they ran out.”

A little knowledge is dangerous, and sometimes expensive. After some research, my next purchase was 1.8 grams of Nakhla won at auction, which I soon traded for an almost five-gram, ebony-crusted fragment of the same with hand-painted antique numbers and Berlin museum labels circa WWII.

So my first meteorite acquisitions were Martian, inspiring me to adopt the internet appellation, MARSROX.


This crusted 4.81 gram fragment was broken from Herbert Obodda's 9 gram specimen. Al Lang performed the surgery.
 

MT - Does your family share your interest?

KK - Close contact to a terminally rabid meteorite collector does not spread a contagion. Since their initial inoculation, my family has grown immune to my fervor.

MT – Do you use a computer in your meteorite work?

KK – I prefer blue skies to Bluetooth. But most days I sit still long enough to haplessly under-utilize a speed-of-light Dell computer for creating, organizing and communicating. I really look forward to the invention of an interface that allows these tasks to be accomplished telepathically while doing something worthwhile, like crawling up a snowy mountain in Nepal. Of course, that infers a Bluetooth brain…..


Martin Horejsi lends a hand to Kevin's 3.41 gram Krasnojarsk PAL.

 

MT - What approach do you take to collecting?

KK – I hope it’s kind and gentle. From the beginning, I decided to acquire a type set of mets. I wanted to see the differences. As the collection grew, my interests expanded to other noteworthy meteorites. And it’s fun to microscopically fly around my selection of thin sections trying to decipher the geography. Although I have a ten-kilo Campo purchased to display during lectures, for some reason I never sought to accumulate big, showy irons.

I do wish to own the meteorites associated with history and discovery and for this, demons haunt me. I’m attracted to these historic mets, but feel ambivalent about the ethics of their private ownership.

Why are these treasures even available?  I’ve publicly pondered the wisdom of museum policies that allow exchanging irreplaceable world-heritage meteorites for unprovenanced, if researchable, NWAs (meteorites from Northwest Africa).

I suspect that most of these “liberated” historic mets will face a dubious future in the market place, either being cut down to oblivion or simply becoming lost in time.

MT – Are you of the opinion that NWAs are of lesser value than what you call “historic” meteorites? Some quite notable people would say that since all meteorites are important, where and when they happen to land is irrelevant.

KK – I believe that there is a hierarchy of desirability in everything. By definition, a collector should strive to obtain the best. Gram for gram, is a weathered Mars NWA shergottite find as valuable as Shergotty, a “name-brand” fall? Of course not.

But is a souk-purchased, desert-varnished L6 as “important” as a “named” L6 plowed up from a muddy farm in Kansas? Sure, unless Nininger recovered it.

If I only collect “falls”, I will not own many NWAs. If I only collect “historic” mets, I will not own any NWAs.

There are many categories for which NWAs can fill a niche for every collector. Since no historic lunar falls exist, not a stamen of stigma is attached to an NWA-numbered lunar rock. Call it what you want, it’s the moon. And where else can one get a brachinite, R-chondrite or a large example of a CR2?  

I’m happy that collectors can own these and other NWAs, whether classified or not. It’s all good.

MT - Do you have any areas of interest for which you are passionate?

KK – I think public education is important. I am frequently asked to present meteorite programs to astronomy clubs, rock or fossil groups, even for Chamber of Commerce breakfasts. I combine meteorite displays with digestible science and personal vignettes, video and music to inform and entertain. The amount of energy that’s needed to plan, set-up, and execute these one-man shows is huge, but it’s clear from audiences that remain until the janitor turns off the lights that everyone is sharing a space-rock buzz. Let’s recruit everyone onto the “Meteorite Recovery Team”.

Another avenue for reaching interested persons is by writing about meteorites and meteorite-inspired history and legend. I enjoy placing meteorite falls in their proper time and setting. I am intrigued by discrepancies in the literature that beg for clarity. I’ve grown away from the need to acquire more mets to a hunger to learn more about mets.


Nininger used eyewitness accounts and triangulation in 1933 to locate the Pasamonte eucrite. About one hundred pieces, most weighing less than an ounce, were recovered. This crusted specimen weighs 4.32 grams.

 

MT – Do you ever hunt for specimens?

KK – Everywhere I go. Nininger believed that the most effective way to find meteorites was to ask people if they had any. I request that advertising prior to my performances specify that attendees bring their meteorites. A spectacular Canyon Diablo picked up a century ago and a comical, spray-painted and crumbling Nantan were re-discovered this way.

As noted in the introduction, I organized month-long expeditions in 1999 and 2001 to hunt for Bolivia’s first authenticated meteorite. This inspiration bubbled up after I was awed there in 1994 by a total solar eclipse, later wondering how this perfect environment for meteorites could have no confirmed finds or falls.

It turned out to not be a perfect environment, so we expanded our search to nearly every museum and university mineral collection, looking for a mislabeled specimen.

But we continued to camp out, and after yet another single-digit night of sleeping on the freeze-dried, crunchy clay of the Altiplano lullabied by bleating llamas, friend and team-member Blaine Reed picked up a walnut-sized H5, Sevaruyo.

Except for the requisite amount needed for science and our own little souvenirs, Sevaruyo was given back to the people of Bolivia. It resides in the Coleccion Meteoritos de Blaine Reed in La Paz with the other mets that Blaine has quietly donated since 1999.

Finding Sevaruyo fulfilled a dream, but the real happiness of hunting meteorites is found from just being at the places you go, while sharing with those you meet along the way.


The first published photo of Sevaruyo H5. TKW - 12.37 grams, Bolivia's first authenticated meteorite.

 

MT – What is your favorite meteorite in your collection?

KK – My favorite thing is not a meteorite, it’s the Brunton transit I bought a few years ago that was owned by Harvey Nininger. He purchased it in the 1920s and used it faithfully during his lifetime of meteorite recovery field work. I consider this instrument to be one of the hobby’s priceless icons and I am thrilled to own it during my life.


This Brunton Transit, #26478 was manufactured in 1923 and was purchased and used for many years by Dr. H. H. Nininger.  It's complete history is detailed in an article in the February, 1999 issue of Meteorite! written by the late Thomas Palmer.

 

MT – That is truly a treasure. But do you have a favorite meteorite and why is it special?

KK – Readers of my book know that I am a collector, no longer a dealer, and usually only remove material from the collection to trade-up. This has resulted in an accumulation of decent size specimens of what I consider important or historic meteorites.

Who could choose a favorite from the exquisite, natural beauty of the CB Gujba or from translucent slices of peridot-peppered PAL’s Marjalahti, Esquel, Krasnojarsk, Springwater or Glorieta Mountain?


The peridot crystals found within the pallasite Marjalahti, a 1902 Russian fall, were made the
earthly standard for this semi-precious stone.  This is an 11.6 gram example.

 

While selecting a finalist in this contest, which pieces could one eliminate from representative specimens of Bencubbin, Nakhla, Ninqiang, Orgueil or Steinbach?

Please don’t make me single out a sole survivor from the impossible historic rarity of Aubres, Barbotan, Chassigny, Ensisheim, Mighei, Pasamonte, Renazzo, Shergotty and Sienna.


Aubres (Aubrite) 1.44 gram slice from the 1836 fall.


Siena LL5 confused investigators in 1794 by falling near Vesuvius, an erupting volcano.
This slice weighs 2.44 grams.

 

I embrace the special place in time and space each of these rocks inhabits. I value the humanity behind their arrival at my door, most attached to warm and fuzzy memories of their acquisition.

MT – What meteorites are presently on your wish list?

KK – No meteorite lists, but instead, meteorite hopes and best wishes.

I wish to thank those who encourage my writing. These endeavors fill my time with worthy thoughts and deeds while hopefully entertaining some and enlightening others.

I wish to thank those who have helped me build a grand collection of specimens that never ceases to engage my brain with recollections of faraway places I’ve never visited.

I hope to be around when researchers resolve the mystery of chondrule formation. The implications of the solution(s) will resonate throughout the multiverse.


A single chondrule from the Allende CV3 carbonaceous chondrite photographed through crossed polars.
(Courtesy of O.R.Norton and Tom Toffoli)

To acquire a copy of Kevin’s new book, see www.theartofcollectingmeteorites.com

Kevin Kichinka can now be your host at Costa Rica's most
exclusive Bed and Breakfast, La Quintana de Costa