Exclusive Interview with a Meteorite Hunter: Greg Hupe

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jon round 1By Jonathan Stroud
JournalistsForSpace.com

Journalists For Space sat down for a beer at Wavelength Brewing Co. with world-renowned meteorite hunter Greg Hupé to talk about his passion, career, and thrilling adventures.

Hupé, a Seattle native, has been traveling the world actively hunting and dealing meteorites since 1999. What began as a simple hobby quickly turned into a full-blown passion as his adrenaline-focused career quickly took off.

His travels have taken him around the world, from exotic locations to dangerous war zones, with many of his early discoveries coming from Morocco and the surrounding Saharas. During his adventures, at times, Hupé has found himself encountering dangers in the Middle East and facing foreign police.

Hupé sells everything from small common meteorites to pieces from Mars and the Moon. Some of his transactions are as small as a few grams to hundreds of grams and even thousands of grams to billionaires around the world and Silicon Valley. He expects to continue his exciting lifestyle as a meteorite hunter for as long as his passion permits.

You can find Hupé’s current collections and purchase limited edition meteorites, fossils, and other artifacts on his website: Nature’s Vault.

“The meteorite world contains a very small group of collectors, compared to fossils or minerals, but they are still very, very passionate.”
– Greg Hupe

A Craft Beer with a Meteorite Hunter: Greg Hupe

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(Left) Jonathan Stroud with (Right) Greg Hupé

Q: When did you discover your passion for meteorite hunting?

It was kind of accidental. In the late ‘90s, my brother started out by buying little bits of meteorites on eBay on the side at work. He eventually started investing in one of the dealers from eBay. The dealer would go to Morocco and buy rocks–some of them were known meteorite types and some of them were not. When the dealer would get back, my brother and he would divide the findings up depending on the investment.

My brother was telling me about one of the trips and I added up the value and said, “Wow! All that!? Oh man! That’s better than the stock market!”

So, I said, “Ask your friend if I can invest next time.”

A few months later, the dealer went on another trip and I ended up investing 40% with my brother. The guy came back and it turned out he had accidentally found a lunar meteorite. Since we invested the most, we got the main mass–the largest piece out of it after they cut it up. That lunar meteorite was like winning the lottery on my first experience with meteorites. I got lucky the first time. I still own it to this day. It’s still exactly how we received it and it’s a part of my collection. You never know…meteorites are surprises at every turn.

That event started my passion for meteorite hunting and my brother and I started investing more. Later, we were contacted by the same dealer [who found the lunar meteorite] and I went on a trip to Morocco for the first time; it was a lot of fun. After I was home for a few months, I received an email from the Moroccans–they had found me on the internet. Next thing I know, we are doing business through emails. Soon after that, my brother and I were at home doing it full-time. I started turning it into a business, ramped it up; it became a hobby gone wild. We started doing massive eBay sales and direct sales to collectors and some museums.

That started up the meteorite engine and then we started utilizing a scientist who happened to be a friend of ours. We had him test samples for us and provide classifications. Things just escalated more and more from there.

And here we are now. That’s where it started and it was just accidental.

Q: What’s the most exciting experience you’ve had while hunting for a meteorite?

I have been to some fun and exciting places. The most recent exciting one was about a year ago in Turkey. One [a meteorite] fell in the Bingol region.

A week before we arrived, the Kurds had just raided a local police station and shot up the place, which was right where we were going. It was right on the border of Syria, Iraq, and Iran in the southeast region of Turkey where they were also fighting ISIS. The Kurds were fighting the government, and the government and the Kurds were fighting ISIS. It was a really hairy place.

We were out there doing business and buying from the local family, which was the one main family who owned the town; they had control of everything. They took us out for a couple of days and we were out hunting in the field one day when they said, “Stick close. If you see a helicopter, don’t look up and do not point your camera at it; it will land and it will get you.”

They pointed up at the hills around us and said, “Half a mile away from us, the village…they [the government] bombed that last year.”

They were super nice, awesome people, but all around us you hear machine gun fire and mortars going off; you see military helicopters flying overhead all the time, military vehicles driving by…it was pretty gnarly.

After a couple of days, our guide, the one guy who spoke English for everybody, came in and said, “We’ve got to go. They know you’re here and it’s way too known now.”

We purposely did not book a flight back to Istanbul because anything could have happened. We couldn’t go to the airport up north either because ISIS was around there. We had to go to a different airport that was four hours away.

During our drive to the airport–it was very fortified since it was in the mountains–there were machine gun nests with big .50-cals sticking out everywhere. We were really in the thick of things. That was, as my friend would call it, a “butt clincher.”

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Dr. Everett Gibson and Greg Hupé in NASA-JSC moon rock vault. Credit: NaturesVault.net

Q: What determines the value of the meteorites you find?

There are a lot of factors that go into it, such as the type of meteorites. Planetary, whether it be our moon or Mars which are both planetary meteorites, are usually the highest cost or value per gram. It’s supply versus demand.

As far as value, there’s aesthetics — such as if it has an awesome sculptural shape to it. Typically, an iron meteorite will have this really neat sculpture that can look like animals or certain shapes. Then, there are extremely fresh meteorites that were picked up within the hour that it fell.

There is scientific value, too. People pay more if it’s an ungrouped or an unknown type that can’t be paired with a known type.

A meteorite that hits a man-made object is called a “Hammer Stone” and people tend to pay more for those. There is a collection niche for Hammer Stones.

The meteorite world contains a very small group of collectors, compared to fossils or minerals, but they are still very, very passionate. Some go to battle to get specific ones since they are one-of-a-kind. Even though many meteorites fall, there’s different shapes and condition.

Q: How do you find out where and when a meteorite falls?

There are several ways. The internet allows for quick reports with Google Alerts or News. People report when they have spotted a ball of light coming [from the sky] and there will be hundreds of reports. Now there are websites that allow you to note your sighting and the direction it was falling.

In the old days, we combined eyewitness reports to try and triangulate the fall. If someone heard sonic booms and there were eyewitnesses who were really close to where it dropped, they could minimize the search area, making the meteorite easier to find.

There are scientists who use Doppler radar, and the main group who does that is Galactic Analytics. They can spot the meteorite shower and see the signature to pinpoint a meteorite, which has really helped recovery rates.

Q: What has been the biggest change in the industry during your time as a meteorite hunter?

The market in Morocco started in the late ‘80s; the Moroccan fossil dealers were the first to be informed about meteorites. They would tell locals, while out in the desert tending to their camels or goats, to keep their eyes open for black rocks or rocks that don’t belong naturally in the desert.

By the time I got involved, it was pretty well-established, but the rare stuff that wasn’t really obvious required testing by scientists. We hired scientists at that time to test the samples for analysis and classification.

As far as the knowledge of the Moroccan dealers: Facebook didn’t exist then, and they weren’t utilizing emails, but their cellphones and connections were getting better year by year. We had an advantage due to their lack of knowledge in what to look for on the market. Over time, the Morrocans started to get to know some of the scientists. Plus, the internet grew and people started building websites and showing meteorites.

We were actually teaching them [Moroccans] how to be our competitors in the future. We were building websites with different classifications of the types of meteorites. We were a part of the problem, but we also had to do that in order to educate our customers. It was kind of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.

Many things changed with the internet and they [Moroccans] became more educated. Moroccans are extremely smart and have memories like you wouldn’t believe. They are like elephants; they don’t forget. It’s a great skill, but, unfortunately, that great skill became competition to me [chuckling].

Q: Where do you find most of your discoveries?

I find my discoveries all over. You can wait for a fresh one to fall somewhere and hope that you can find it, or you can go hunt for some yourself or buy from someone.

You can go to old places like old strewn fields where they fell years or centuries ago. You can go back to those old strewn fields with new technology, better metal detectors, as long as you have permission from the landowners. I have friends who have done that and discovered lots of new meteorites.

Buying from old collections is also another option. Sometimes a collector passes away and his kids or wife don’t want anything to do with it; so, they end up selling it.

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A strewn field is a term that indicates an area where meteorites from a single fall are dispersed. Credit: Wikipedia

Q: Have you ever found yourself in trouble with the law while traveling?

I did in Morocco. I used to go there all the time and I was down there on one of my trips in 2008.

I was working with a family of Moroccans and we were sitting there when the next thing I know, there’s a knock at the door. A plain-clothed guy was standing there with a uniformed policeman standing next to him. The plain-clothed guy was the Chief of Police; he just wasn’t in uniform. They hauled us down in a paddy wagon, not telling us what was going on. We sat there for hours and hours, not knowing. It turned out that someone had said we were trying to buy fossils, which is not illegal, but they asked us, “Are you buying fossils?”

I said, “No, I’m not. I’m here visiting friends and looking at some rocks,” which is not illegal either.

Basically, someone had made up some story and I was hauled to the jail. I wasn’t arrested and I wasn’t put in jail; they just made me sit there.

I’m waiting for two hours with an old man who didn’t speak any English. Then, here come my two Moroccan friends who spoke English. They are following behind a cop with a machine gun. I thought, “I’m really screwed now and I don’t know why. I haven’t done anything.”

We were in a back room and after my other two friends were interviewed, they called us all back in and the Chief of Police was tapping away at his computer–typing, looking up, asking questions, typing more. I’m sure he wasn’t even doing anything on the computer, but finally he looked up and said, “You’re free to go.”

My Moroccan friend was like, “Ok, we better get out of here. Let’s go.”

We got the hell out of there.

Turned out to be jealous competition that was trying to ruin our business, and fortunately ended up just ruining my day.

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Chelyabinsk Event Credit: National Geographic

Q: Have you ever been in a situation where you were worried for your life?

There was one time in Morocco; it was a simple purchasing trip I had prearranged to buy a Martian meteorite. I went there to get my meteorite, but I heard that two other teams of Moroccans found out about my rock.

It was way down in Laayoune, Western Sahara and I landed in Casablanca which is about 24 hours away. I heard about these two phantom groups going after my rock.

I had two Moroccans with me and I said, “We have to drive nonstop.” They were taking turns [driving] and starting to fall asleep. They sideswiped a truck and didn’t even stop; they ran over a curb, one of those roundabouts, and I was like, “Holy crap!” Luckily, I’m an insomniac; so I didn’t get any sleep.

Finally we got the rock and my trip was done, but I wanted to get back to my regular route. So we’re driving in the middle of the night and going up the mountains, and one of the guys actually falls asleep at the wheel this time. He was driving straight on a curve where there were no guardrails. I yelled, “WAKE UP!”

He slammed on the brakes right as he woke up, turning the wheel and just barely missing the edge.

Luckily, I was in the passenger seat. Otherwise, we would have been over the cliff because the other guy in the back was also asleep.

He was turning the vehicle to get back on the road when the car’s lights showed the skid marks. We were only a couple feet away from the edge; we would have been done. After regaining our composure, we carried on with more caution. The driver said, “Thank God. I will never drive again.”

I guess that would be the closest to a near death experience that a meteor has caused me.

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Greg Hupé studying Battle Mountain scene. Credit: NaturesVault.net

Q: What is the most valuable type of meteorite you’ve sold?

Lunar meteorites.

I invested in, what was at one point, the largest [lunar meteorite] that had been discovered to date, in 2013. My brother and some of his friends had bought it and fully invested. They weren’t able to deal with it, so I bought about 50%.

I created some full slices of it [the lunar meteorite] and just hit the ground running with a fresh set of eyes and ambition. I was able to sell some extremely valuable dinner-plate sized slices to some very wealthy, very well-known, individuals–some of the top players in the aerospace market.

Q: Where can people find your meteorites to buy?

Naturesvault.net. I have different varieties of meteorites for sale on the website. I also have expeditions: some fossil hunting and diving findings. There’s also articles I’ve written about some of my adventures.

Q: Do you have any advice for someone looking to become a meteorite hunter?

I say just educate themselves online. Reach out and talk to people who will tell you about their own experiences and give you advice over the phone. Also, go to some of the meteorite group events. Tucson Mineral Show in February is the main meteorite party; it’s about a week long and for two or three nights in a row, there is a different event or party. You can meet and talk to all the meteorite people and then they might invite you to go hunt for meteorites in the dry lake beds down here in the southwest in California, Nevada, and Arizona.

Go to museums. Seeing them [meteorites] in person is one way to help you identify them quickly.

There are lots of videos out there where people are hunting and they tell you about their findings; there’s a whole wealth of information on the internet. You can certainly educate yourself. But, I think associating with people that have done it before is the best way.

Hupé concluded the interview by explaining the importance of working with museums that give and allow access for people to view the discoveries. He said, “I’m part of an awareness…a lot of us will work with museums. In fact, my largest lunar meteorite was on display at the Peabody Museum at Yale University, which ended as scheduled November 30, 2016. I took it off the market; my intention was to put it on public display and to do something educational through the museum in hopes that a benefactor will come along and buy it and re-donate it to the Peabody Museum. Some [of my] clients put theirs on display, often at NASA. They [my clients] will loan them and allow scientists to perform non-destructive studies on the rocks. In some cases, even though I’ve sold them, I can still go visit them at a friend’s house or a museum.”

Check out Hupé’s collection or schedule an exhibition tour of your own by Clicking Here.

Make sure to keep up with the latest exclusive interviews and space-related content at Journalist For Space.

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