Meteorites stolen from WNC science center
Science center calls rocks irreplaceable
Dec 28, 2012 – Written by Clarke Morrison
ROSMAN — Meteorites collected from around the globe were stolen by thieves in a Christmas Eve break-in at a science education center and former spy station deep in the woods of Western North Carolina.
The more than 100 extraterrestrial rocks are irreplaceable, said Dave Clavier, vice president of the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute.
“The whole thing’s just real sad,” 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.
“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.”
Video surveillance at the facility near Rosman captured images of two men who broke in through locked doors about 3 a.m. Monday and spent about 45 minutes inside, Clavier said.
The thieves also stole about 10 large-screen television monitors, several Blu-Ray players, two overhead video projectors that were ripped from the ceiling, a microscope and other scientific instruments.
Detective Wade Abram of the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office said officers are seeking the public’s help in identifying two men and a woman caught on video visiting the institute on Dec. 21. He said they are “persons of interest” in the case.
Clavier said the stolen electronic equipment is worth an estimated $80,000, but it’s difficult to place a value on the meteorites. The space rocks are from three private collections, and they were on loan to PARI for display.
“They’ve been collected from Australia, Russia, Antarctica and virtually everywhere around the world,” he 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.
Meteorites are sometimes sold on websites like eBay and Craigslist and at flea markets, Clavier said.
“I 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.”
PARI 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.
NSA 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 PARI as an educational and research center.
PARI is offering a $1,000 reward information leading to the identification of the suspects and recovery of the meteorites and equipment. Anyone with information can call 884-3168.