In northwestern China, a Kazakh herder says a 17.8 ton meteorite belongs to him. The local government disagrees.
Made of siderite (iron carbonate), the rock could be worth millions. Others say just $30,000:
Owning a Chinese Meteorite
The NY Times tells us that one Chinese legal clause will determine who owns the Kazakh meteorite. Saying natural resources like wetlands belong to the government, the clause ends with “et cetera.” Local authorities claim that “et cetera” includes meteorites. Disagreeing, the herder says the meteorite that sat on his property is not a natural resource.
A Chinese court will probably decide during the next six months.
Owning a U.S. Meteorite
In 1976, prospectors looking for a lost gold mine on federal land in California found the Old Woman meteorite. When they claimed “her,” the court said no. Based on the 1906 Antiquities Act, she belonged to the federal government.
This is the Old Woman:
Similarly, a private property owner owns a meteorite that lands there. The precedent was established in an 1892 case when a person found a meteorite on someone else’s land and sold it. Saying the finder was not the lawful owner, the court nullified its sale.
Our Bottom Line: Outer Space Property Rights
In 17th century New England, the process unfolded gradually. Many of the settlers had come from English manors where the land and tools were communally owned. In towns like Sudbury, MA, at first they too shared their land and tools. Soon though, with people moving westward and claiming their own land, private ownership prevailed.
By the end of the 18th century, we have Alexander Hamilton defending the sanctity of contracts. He knew that the success of capitalism depended on respecting individual property rights
That takes us back to the importance of China’s property rights…
And also outer space property law.