Sotheby's has announced that it is putting up for auction moon rocks brought to Earth by an unmanned Soviet space mission in 1970 and expects they will sell for between $700,000 and $1 million.
The rocks to be auctioned off in New York City on November 29 are the only known documented samples from the moon to be legally available for private ownership.
The rocks include basalt fragments, which are similar to Earth's volcanic rock, as well as bits of surface debris known as regolith. Similar samples have been dated as being as much as 3.4 billion years old.
They are being sold by an unidentified private American collector who purchased them in 1993 from Nina Korolyova, the widow of former Soviet space program director Sergei Pavlovich Korolyov.
The fragments range in size from about 2 x 2 millimeters to 1 x 1 millimeter. The Soviet Union presented them to Korolyova as a gift in recognition of her late husband’s contributions to the space program.
Sotheby's said the particles were encased under glass with a Russian plaque designating them as soil samples from the moon.
Wealthy collectors pay huge sums for space artifacts. Last year, Sotheby's fetched $1.8 million for a zippered bag laced with moon dust that was used by U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong during the first manned mission to the moon in 1969.
Most other known moon samples remain the property of the U.S. and the Russian space programs. The Russian artifacts were obtained by the Soviet Union via the unmanned Luna-16, Luna-20, and Luna-24 missions.
The particles being auctioned were retrieved by Luna-16, which drilled a hole in the moon's surface to a depth of 35 centimeters to extract a core sample.