These visitors Dec. 21 to the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute now are considered persons of interest in the thefts of more than 100 meteorites.(Photo: Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute)
By Clarke Morrison, Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times
ROSMAN, N.C. - Thieves have stole meteorites collected from around the world in a break-in at a science education center and former spy station deep in the woods of western North Carolina.
more than 100 rocks that have traveled through space, entered the
atmosphere and survived impact with the earth are irreplaceable, said
Dave Clavier, vice president of the Pisgah Astronomical Research
Institute here. The not-for-profit foundation provides education and
research opportunities for students of all ages interested in astronomy.
awful," he said. "Every one of them is one of a kind. It's an object
that's flown millions of miles through space and crashed into earth."
The meteorites are from three private collections and were on loan to the institute for display.
been collected from Australia, Russia, Antarctica and virtually
everywhere around the world," Clavier said. "They're unique. They tell
scientists and young people about the universe."
Clavier said the stolen meteorites range from about the size of a quarter to a basketball.
"Since they are typically solid iron, they are very heavy for their size," he said.
equipment valued at about $80,000 including 10 big-screen TV monitors,
Blu-ray players, overhead projectors, microscopes and other scientific
equipment also was taken.
"It's difficult enough as a nonprofit to
help advance science education for young people much less when
criminals like this disrespect everything that we do," Clavier said.
surveillance at the facility near here captured images of two men who
broke in through locked doors about 3 a.m. Monday and spent about 45
minutes inside, Clavier said.
Security cameras captured images of
possible suspects. Detective Wade Abram of the Transylvania County
Sheriff's Office said he also has photos of three people of interest in
the case who visited Dec. 21, a few days before the theft.
The center has been closed for the holidays this week.
Meteorites are sometimes sold on websites like eBay and Craigslist and at flea markets, Clavier said.
don't know why they broke in and stole what they stole, but it's
terribly distressing," he said. "Obviously they don't care about science
education for young people."
The building was once a top-secret
facility of the National Security Agency. NASA originally cleared the
200-acre site in Pisgah National Forest in the early 1960s, building a
tracking station for Gemini and Apollo spacecraft.
Security Agency took over the facility in 1981 and used it as a
listening post, pulling in satellite signals during the Cold War. Donald
Cline, an electrical engineer with Bell Telephone Laboratories, took
over the facility in 1998, creating Pisgah Astronomical Research
Institute as an educational and research center.
The institute is
offering a $1,000 reward information leading to the identification of
the suspects and recovery of the meteorites and equipment.